Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NJ takes one step forward, one step back on drug-free school zones

AP reports that New Jersey may be shrinking its drug-free school zones in response to longstanding criticism of the way they virtually encompass entire cities, as well as their racially disproportionate impact.

An Assembly committee voted on Monday to decrease the size of the zones from 1,000 feet to 200 feet within the distance of a school. Unfortunately, the committee also voted to increase the sentences of people convicted under the zone laws.
The 4-1 vote, with one abstention, came after the chairman of the state Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing assured legislators that the current 1,000-foot school zone (500 feet for public places) had effectively put entire cities in such zones and resulted in the law being applied almost exclusively to blacks and Hispanics.

"The laws as written don't work. They don't protect our children," said the commission chairman, retired state Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman. He said state and county prosecutors did not oppose the changes.

As the commission recommended, the revised law would provide a 200-foot drug-free zone around schools and public places. Offenders would face five to 10 years in prison, compared to three to five years under the current statute.
Fortunately, the increased penalties are not mandatory minimums, and judges will have discretion on how long sentences should be.

Judge Hoffman's quote is refreshing, as it is an acknowledgement that punitive prohibitionist policies aren't doing anything to keep young people safe. The reduction of the drug-free school zones' size is a good first step, but let's hope his advocacy doesn't stop there.


Kris said...

In New Jersey, of all places.

Is this out of sympathy and fairness, or in response to the unmanageable cost of excessive incarceration? Well, leverage is leverage, I guess. Money talks, especially for the (R)'s– and reform can't happen easily without them.

Overall, this seems positive, without having taken the time to actually read the bill (hmmm, I wonder how many assembly members thought that as they cast their vote?).

The toss-up between mandatory minimums and guidelines for greater bench discretion is a familiar pickle in drug sentencing. MM's should rot in hell, but there are some judges for whom greater discretion is a license to hang. In other words, there is more work to be done.

Jan. 9 is RIGHT around the corner- about a month. Folks getting 5-year MM's spend that much time in their 2.5'-wide racks (luxury beds) during their sentence.

Good report, Tom. Thanks.

Micah Daigle said...

I think it's time we start lobbying for mandatory maximums. NOBODY should be going to jail for 5-10 years for a non-violent drug offense.

Marissa said...

Tom, I'm gonna admit: Not that I don't think the war on drugs is effing retarded, but I just realized I must not comment much on your blog because my comments will all be about how funny you looked that one time when you were drunk at that Halloween party, etc., and I doubt any of that would look appropriate next to the comments on injustice and such. You should get your OWN blog, for real, that's just yours and keeps track of your topsy-turvy life and not just drug policy. And I will comment bomb the crapola out it.

Marissa said...

But yeah, keep up the good work. :)