Fortunately, time ran out on a bill
to shrink drug-free school zones.
Before it died in committee, the bill
had many wondering why its backers seemed to care more about fairness
to drug dealers than about safe streets for children.
The bill would have reduced the size of drug-free zones around schools
and eliminated them around housing projects and day-care centers.
Extra penalties are assessed for drug trafficking within the zones.
The zones were called unfair to cities
and racially discriminatory because they virtually blanket dense,
minority-rich cities such as Hartford but barely dapple sparsely
populated white towns such as Glastonbury.
What's unfair to cities like Hartford
- and discriminatory - are the open-air drug markets that so many
children of color must walk through to get to school and home to
Drug-free zones were meant to give
children a break from the ceaseless warfare on some city streets.
The law tacks three extra years of
prison onto the sentences of people caught distributing drugs within
1,500 feet of a school, housing project or day-care facility. Contrary
to reports that the penalty is mandatory, judges have discretion
when it's a first offense.
State correction data show 62 people
now incarcerated on the offense - a tiny fraction of the state prison
population of more than 18,000. The charge rarely reaches the conviction
stage because it's usually dropped during plea bargaining. It's
a tool to get traffickers to plead guilty to reduced charges and
avoid a costly trial.
And it's a tool to get them out of
neighborhoods. For children of all colors who walk city streets
littered with needles, thugs, prostitutes and all the other detritus
of the trade, any deterrent is good.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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