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July 2, 2007

The realities of drug-free zones

A helpful reader passed along this interesting article from Florida, entitled "Drug-free zones target blacks unfairly, critics say," discussing the realities of drug-free zones.  Here are some snippets:

On Boynton Beach's Martin Luther King Boulevard, two signs warn that this is a "drug-free school zone," while the sign down the block states that this is a "drug-free park zone."  Alone, either sign means that people caught selling drugs here can face more serious charges and more prison time than drug sellers elsewhere.

Together, the signs mean two sets of raised charges and penalties. And, although no sign says so, churches in the neighborhood and the convenience store across the street mean dealers could face four criminal charges for one drug transaction.  The same four crimes can also be charged to residents of this street caught with saleable amounts of drugs in their homes.  That is because people living on this street live within the overlapping circumferences of four invisible thousand-foot circles.

Across Florida, these circles also surround community centers, day-care facilities, colleges, housing projects, and, after a 2005 addition to state drug laws, nursing homes. "Now they're protecting people who can't even leave the premises," said Anthony Calvello, a Palm Beach County public defender who appealed some of South Florida's first drug-free zone arrests to the state's Supreme Court.  "What's the thinking behind all this?"

While lawmakers put them in all 50 states during the past 20 years, researchers have found the zones have not slowed drug selling.  "The premise was to protect certain places and drive drug dealing away from vulnerable people," said William Brownsberger, a former prosecutor and policy analyst, who in 2001 completed the first critical study of the law in Massachusetts. "But when every place is special, no place is special. What the laws do is lock people up for exorbitant periods of time for relatively low-level crimes."

Police, weary of arresting and rearresting drug dealers, say any law that keeps criminals off their streets for longer is valuable to them.  Opponents of the law say the money now spent on longer prison sentences could be better spent on drug treatment and entrepreneurial training.

Some related posts about drug-free zone laws:

July 2, 2007 at 08:40 AM | Permalink


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In 2002, the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing issued a groundbreaking report on New Jersey’s “drug-free zone” law. The law basically mandates a three-year mandatory minimum sentence in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense when the drug offense occurs in the zones. The commission found that the zones were completely ineffective in reducing drug offences within the designated areas. In addition the commission found that the law had a severe “urban effect” that disproportionately affected minority communities.
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