Commmission Seeks To Curtail Drug-Free School Zones

The Connecticut Law Tribune

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The state Sentencing Commission wants state lawmakers to consider a proposal to shrink the size of drug-free zones around schools, day-care centers and public housing complexes, saying that the current law discriminates against city dwellers — often minority residents — who are more likely to live in such a zone.

As it stands, the state statute provides for harsher penalties for people caught selling drugs within 1,500 feet of the schools, day-care centers or housing complexes. The laws were implemented more than two decades ago, when waves of dealers were selling crack cocaine.

The commission's concern is that these zones often encompass entire urban neighborhoods or even most of a city. As a result, anyone who is convicted of a drug charge in those places is likely to face a stiffer penalty than they would for the same offense in a more suburban or rural town.

Former Supreme Court Justice David Borden, who chairs the Sentencing Commission, noted that in New Haven, "if you start drawing circles around every school, the only place [the drug-free zones stature] doesn't apply is the Yale golf course. It de-validates ... the deterrent effect if everywhere is the enhanced area."

The Sentencing Commission proposal would shrink the drug-free zone radius to a 200-foot perimeter around schools, day-care centers and public housing complexes. Officials acknowledged it might be difficult to persuade lawmakers — especially those outside urban areas — to accept the change in an election year.

The Hartford Courant reported that the Sentencing Commission also proposed that the enhanced penalties associated with selling drugs in a school zone shouldn't be enforced unless the dealer specifically sought to do business in that area. Someone selling narcotics in a car that happened to be passing a school would not be subject to the stiffer punishment, under the proposal.

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