During the winter and spring of 2014, The UUS:E Social Justice / Antiracism Committee worked with our partner, A Better Way Foundation, to win passage of Senate Bill 259, “AN ACT CONCERNING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE CONNECTICUT SENTENCING COMMISSION REGARDING THE ENHANCED PENALTY FOR THE SALE OR POSSESSION OF DRUGS NEAR SCHOOLS, DAY CARE CENTERS AND PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECTS.” In short, this bill would have reducde the size of drug free zones and help ease the trend toward mass incarceration of urban people of color. The bill did not win passage. We expect this bill–or some version of it–to be raised next year. We expect to be part of the coalition that will organize to win successful passage!
Why does this matter?
Here’s background on the problem of drug free zones:
If you live in a small city or town and are caught selling even a small amount of drugs to anyone at all – friend, relative, or complete stranger – you will get a much lighter sentence than you would if you live in Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, or any other of Connecticut’s larger cities. Why? Because of the Drug Free Zone law. This law says that 1500 feet surrounding a school, daycare center, or public housing must be designated a drug free zone. Makes sense, right? We don’t want drug dealing going on in the vicinity of children anywhere in our cities.
But this law, which sounds as if it’s necessary to keep drug dealers away from children, actually has the effect of keeping urban people in prison longer than rural people guilty of exactly the same crime. In Rev. Josh’s March 30th sermon on this topic, he quoted a report of the Prison Policy Initiative entitled “Reaching Too Far: How Connecticut’s Large Sentencing Enhancement Zones Miss the Mark.” The report states: “Connecticut’s [drug free] zone law … arbitrarily increases the time people convicted of drug offenses must spend in prison without any evidence that their underlying offense actually endangered children. In fact, the Legislative Program Review & Investigations Committee looked at a sample of 300 [drug free] zone cases, and found only three cases that involved students, none of which involved adults dealing drugs to children…. Except for those three cases in which students were arrested, all arrests occurring in ‘drug-free’ zones were not linked in any way by the police to the school, a school activity, or students. The arrests simply occurred within ‘drug-free’ school zones.”
Because of the prevalence of schools, daycare centers, and public housing in cities, in effect the whole city becomes a drug-free zone so any deal anywhere will automatically command a longer sentence than exactly the same deal in a small town with many fewer schools, daycare centers, and public housing. The solution? Change the extent of the drug-free zones from 1500 feet to 200 feet. This would be just as effective in keeping dealers away from children and would provide fairer sentencing for urban people who are doing exactly what suburban and rural people are doing but are spending longer times in prison for their offense.
For a more in depth look at the problem of drug free zones, see “What Happens When an Entire City Becomes a Drug Free School Zone,” by Christie Robinson.
Once again, the UUS:E Social Justice / Antiracism Committee expects to continue its work to pass this very important legislation during the 2015 legislative session.