News Article The Stamford Advocate March 25, 2006

Supporters Urge Change to Laws on Drug-free School Zones (CT)

HARTFORD -- Calling current law racist, activists yesterday pushed for a bill that would shrink the size of zones around schools, day-care centers and public housing that carry stiffer penalties for drug offenses.

The bill would reduce the current 1,500 foot "drug free" radius around those facilities to 200 feet, within which additional mandatory three-year sentences are tacked on to drug offenses, including possession, sale and intent to sell drugs.

Advocates said the law hurts minorities disproportionately because prohibited zones blanket most of Connecticut's mostly minority central cities much more than suburban or rural areas. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, for example, are almost totally covered with drug-free zones, according to a national study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute.

Supporters of the bill held a news conference before testifying at a Judiciary Committee public hearing on the bill and several others. "All these laws do is be tough on people of color and poor people in our communities," said Barbara Fair, a licensed clinical social worker and member of New Haven-based People Against Injustice. "It's giving the prosecutors a (plea bargaining) tool to use to coerce people to plead guilty to crimes they may not have even committed." Read more »

News Article The Press of Atlantic City March 24, 2006

Study Concludes Drug-free Zones Not Protecting Children (NJ)

Drug-free zones not only don't protect children, but instead have put a disproportionate number of minorities in jail, according to experts who have been studying the policy.

A national study — spawned by a New Jersey commission's findings — was released Thursday. In it, the Justice Policy Institute found that the zones are too large and therefore do not deter drug sales within school zones and other protected areas.

JS Publication March 23, 2006

Disparity by Design: How drug-free zone laws impact racial disparity – and fail to protect youth

A new report coauthored by Justice Strategies analysts Judy Greene and Kevin Pranis, and Jason Ziedenberg of The Justice Policy Institute, finds that drug-free zone laws have no deterrent effect on drug sales near schools but instead fuel racial disparity in imprisonment.

A stunning 96 percent of New Jersey prisoners sentenced under the state's drug-free zone laws are black or Hispanic. In Connecticut, majority nonwhite cities had ten times more zones per square mile than cities where less than 10 percent of residents were black or Hispanic. Several states, including Connecticut, New Jersey and Utah, are currently considering reforming or repealing drug-free zone laws.

Laws that heighten penalties for drug activity near schools and other locations frequented by youth have been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Yet until New Jersey's sentencing commission undertook an investigation in 2005, no state policymakers had taken a comprehensive look at whether "drug-free zone" laws in fact deter drug activity near schools, or what unintended consequences might result from casting wide zones around a long list of proscribed locations. Read more »

News Article

New Jersey drug-free zone laws produce "devastating" disparity, no deterrence

New Jersey's drug-free zone laws have no deterrent effect on drug sales near schools but instead fuel racial disparity in imprisonment according to New Jersey's Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing and a new report coauthored by policy analysts with Justice Strategies and Justice Policy Institute. Since the state's "school-zone" law took effect, the proportion of blacks admitted to prison for drug convictions has risen four times faster than the proportion of whites. A stunning 96 percent of New Jersey prisoners sentenced under the state's drug-free zone laws are black or Hispanic.

New Jersey maintains the highest percentage of people imprisoned for drug offenses in the country -- 36 percent, compared to a national average of 20 percent -- and the state ranks among the worst in the nation in terms of racial disparity in imprisonment. New Jersey's "drug-free zone" laws, which heighten penalties for drug activity near schools and other locations frequented by children, bear much of the blame. Read more »

News Article

Connecticut drug-free zone laws blanket minority neighborhoods but fail to deter drug activity

Connecticut ranks at the top in the nation in the degree of disparity between the rates of incarceration for whites and blacks. The state’s drug-free zone laws contribute to that disparity by blanketing densely populated urban neighborhoods with prohibited zones. Yet new research shows that the laws do nothing to protect in youth from drug activity

Connecticut ranks at the top in the nation in the degree of disparity between the rates of incarceration for whites and blacks. Many who advocate for racial justice believe that the state’s mandatory minimum drug laws – including statutes that enhance penalties for offenses that take place in prohibited zones – play a major role in fostering that racial disparity.

Connecticut's drug-free zone laws affect manufacture, sale, and possession of a drug or drug paraphernalia within 1,500 feet of a school, day care center, or public housing unit. The mandatory penalties were designed to operate as sentencing enhancements, and are imposed on top of whatever sentence a person receives for the underlying drug offense. Read more »

News Article

Massachusetts drug-free zone law ineffective, not evenly enforced

In Massachusetts, where 80 percent of those sentenced with the drug-free enhancement are ethnic and racial minorities, two different research efforts have determined that the laws are not working as intended. Researchers affiliated with the Boston University School of Public Health found that decisions by police and prosecutors to invoke the statute had little or nothing to do with keeping drugs away from schoolchildren. A research team at Northeastern University School of Law found disturbing patterns of racial disparity in arrests and charging practices.

The Massachusetts "school-zone" statute, enacted in 1989, establishes 1,000-foot penalty enhancement zones around schools and 100-foot zones around parks and playgrounds. Defendants convicted of distributing or possessing drugs with intent to distribute in a drug-free zone face a two-year mandatory minimum term that must be served on top of any penalty imposed for the underlying offense. The enhancement does not apply to simple drug possession charges. Read more »

News Article The Associated Press March 23, 2006

Drug-Free School Zone Laws Questioned

In reaction to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, laws creating drug-free zones around schools spread nationwide. Now, hard questions are being raised — by legislators, activists, even law enforcement officials — about the fairness and effectiveness of those laws.

In New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington state, bills have been proposed to sharply reduce the size of the zones. A former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts reviewed hundreds of drug-free-zone cases, and found that less than 1 percent involved drug sales to youths.

JS Publication January 31, 2006

Treatment Instead of Prisons: A Roadmap for Sentencing and Correctional Policy in Wisconsin

A broad-based movement is building to overhaul Wisconsin's sentencing practices. The Treatment Instead of Prison (TIP) campaign — a dynamic statewide coalition of 24 organizations — has launched a coordinated effort to call attention to the many benefits of using substance abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration for people charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Read more »

News Article

Ohio combines sentencing reform and community corrections to rein in prison budget

Ohio provides a remarkable example of policy reforms and investments in community-based alternative programs can yield correctional cost savings. State policymakers have managed to reduce the state's prison population by more than 5,000, allowing closure of two prisons, and saving taxpayers more than $65 million a year.

One Midwestern state provides a remarkable example of how comprehensive policy reforms and substantial investments in community-based alternative programs can, over time, yield huge correctional cost savings. In 1996 Ohio legislators embraced "truth-in-sentencing" when they enacted Senate Bill 2. They abolished parole release and established a system of flat sentences. They also provided a system of sentencing guidance for judges grounded on basic principles which are developed and enforced by appellate review. Read more »

News Article The Montgomery Advertiser November 1, 2005

Groups say prison not addicts' place (AL)

Efforts to divert drug addicts and other nonviolent criminals away from state prisons are gaining momentum months before Alabama's 2006 legislative session.

On Monday, the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates the legalization of medical marijuana and policy changes in the way America deals with drug addicts, released "Alabama Prison Crisis: A Justice Strategies Policy Report."

"Substance abuse is driving the prison crisis," said Kevin Pranis, an analyst with Justice Strategies, the New York-based nonprofit group commissioned to do the report.