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Drug-Free Zones Survive

March 31, 2006
Editorial By Courant

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 the projects.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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