Around Schools, a Potential Drawback for "Drug Enforcement" Zones

Mar 12, 2014

A new proposal aims to draw back the drug enforcement zones around schools from 1500 to 200 feet.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

A new law proposes making drug enforcement zones around schools smaller. It's a measure aimed at giving teeth to a law that's been on the books since 1987.

Currently, if you're convicted of possessing or selling drugs within 1500 feet of a school, you're subject to mandatory jail terms. But in urban areas, especially, that 1500-foot area encompasses vast areas of residential space.

In urban areas, the 1500-foot area encompasses vast areas of residential space.

"The drug zones are not actually zones. They're the entire cities," said Andrew Clark from the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, which spearheaded the legislation. Clark said the enforcement radius is bloated -- and added that it undermines kids' safety. "You're essentially telling someone that it doesn't matter where you sell," he said. "Our view of the intent of the law was to say, we definitely do not want you to sell here." 

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 94 percent of Hartford's residents, 93 percent of New Haven's residents, and 92 percent of Bridgeport residents live in areas covered by a sentencing enhancement zone.

Under the new proposal, lawmakers are looking to change the 1500-foot enforcement zone to 200 feet from the perimeter of school property. Clark said the Sentencing Commission gathered feedback from public defenders, prosecutors, and drug policy experts.

"If your intent with this legislation," Clark said, "is to create a sanctuary around schools, so that people know clearly that the state of Connecticut is saying that we do not want you to have drug sales or possession around schools, then the Commission proposal would do that. The law that's currently on the books does not do that. Essentially, it has no deterrent effect."

Still, there is opposition to reducing the drug-free safety zones. Pat Droney, an Enfield resident who testified he was a former police chief in Massachusetts, wrote, "This makes absolutely zero sense to me. Why would any responsible legislator look to reduce the distance from which [drug dealers] would be allowed to ply their trade?"

The new proposal also provides one more point of clarity. "And that's in terms of the intent to violate," Clark said. "In essence, there is a state court decision ... that showed you have to intend to violate this school zone law when you're driving through. It can't just be that you were driving through, someone stops you, and you get charged with it."

The bill goes before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.