JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
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.
SPONSORS OF BILL:
REASONS FOR BILL:
The proposal comes from the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, which consists of 23 members, including judges, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, the Department of Correction, the Department of Public Safety, the Judicial Branch and other relevant stakeholders of the state's criminal justice system.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Dr. Robert Painter, M.D., Drug - Free Zone Working Group of the Sentencing Commission: In a letter dated June 26, 2012, The Judiciary Co-Chairs requested that the Commission explore the effectiveness of the drug-free zone statutes and how they are applied. Subsequently a working group of the Legislative Committee was formed for the aforementioned purposes. Members included Deputy Chief State's Attorney Len Boyle, Legal Counsel/Executive Assistant Public Defender Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, Andrew Clark, Jason DePatie, Dr. Painter, and Legislative Committee members Alex Tsarkov and Laresse Harvey. The working group had submitted recommendations that were endorsed by a consensus by the Legislative Subcommittee, and by the full Commission. The Sentencing Commission recommends two changes to the drugs free zone statutes: (1) that the zone be measure from the periphery of the properties described in the legislation and that the zone should extend 200 feet from the periphery of the property; and (2) that State v. Lewis, 303 Conn 760 (2012), be codified to make clear that “intent to violate” is considered and that proof is offered that the offense occurred in a school zone. Those merely passing through the area with illegal substances would not be subject to the enhanced penalty.
Moira Buckley, Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, President: The unintended effect of the current 1500 ft. zone is to discriminate against urban citizens by punishing them more severely than suburban or rural individuals who commit the same offense resulting in the disparate treatment of similarly situated individuals. The purpose of enhanced penalties for selling or possessing of drugs near schools and daycare centers was to penalize defendants who distribute to, or use drugs in front of, kids near schools. If a defendant is charged with the enhanced penalty nearly anywhere he/she commits the offense in the city of New Haven, then what deterrence is there from doing it in the very locations we seek to protect? By restricting the enhanced penalty zone to the immediate areas sought to be protected, defendants are theoretically deterred from entering those identified zones with drugs, recognizing that if caught in these areas an enhanced sentence can be imposed to run consecutive to any sentence they receive for the actual offense.
Rev. Joshua Mason Pawelek, Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice; Minister, Unitarian Universalist Society: East, Manchester, CT, President: Strongly supports the recommendations to reduce drug-free school zones from 1500 to 200 feet because it helps us as a society to begin to address two larger, problematic and morally flawed aspects of our criminal justice system: mass incarceration of Black and Hispanic men; and the prioritization of incarceration for non-violent offenders instead of community-based public health interventions designed to address addiction, mental illness and trauma. Reducing the size of drug-free school zones will help reduce the number of non-violent offenders in prison, which should have the effect of spurring public health officials and the larger society to think more creatively and compassionately about how to treat the causes of non-violent, drug-related crime.
David McGuire, American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, Staff Attorney: Clearly, none of us would support legislation that imposes a harsher penalty on people of color than on white people for exactly the same behavior, but that has been the very real, if unintended, consequence of drug-free zones. A 2005 report by this legislature's Program Review and Investigations Committee noted that “almost the total geographical areas of Bridgeport, Hartford, and New haven are within drug-free zones.” In comparison, drug-free zones tend to cover far less of the area in smaller towns – mainly the commercial center of suburban communities and only scattered areas in rural ones. Considering the de facto housing segregation that continues in the state, the consequences are obvious: African American and Latino people are far more likely than white people to be automatically subjected to the harsher penalties tied to drug-free zones, entirely because of where they live, which is inextricably tied to who they are. This unequal punishment violates the spirit and substance of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it is morally repugnant.
LaResse Harvey, A Better Way Foundation, Director of Strategic Relations: Supports all of the recommendations of the bill and believes that it should also include removing public housing, which had bipartisan support during 2012 session, as well as a new Racial Ethnic Impact Statement which will show the ineffectiveness and the racial discrimination the current law presents. The legislature's Program Review and Investigations Committee concluded that mandatory minimum sentencing laws achieve few of their stated objectives and do not work. The researchers also found that in certain urban and “urban-like” suburban areas, there is no incentive for people selling drugs to move away from school, day care centers or public housing because almost the entire city is a drug zone.
Frank Cervo, UConn Students for Sensible Drug Policy, President: The intention of these enhanced penalties is to prevent individuals from using drugs with or near children or selling drugs to them. This is a very legitimate concern and individuals engaging in these activities deserve enhanced penalties. However, with the law as it stands, many individuals receive the enhanced penalties without involving children at all. This is especially apparent at the University of Connecticut where several residence halls are placed within 1500 feet of E.O. Smith High School. Buckley Hall, which houses the freshman Honors community is one such building, and so many of Uconn's brightest incoming students with the potential to do great things for our state receive enhanced penalties for something that would have been a lighter charge in a different residence hall.
Kevin Oliveira, UConn Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Recruitment and Diversity Chair: Has personally seen and experienced a handful of situations where drug-free zone policies have taken offenses of mere possession of a decriminalized substance and increased the penalties because the location was within a certain radius of a school zone, despite there being no interaction with said school or students from that school. In any of Connecticut's largest municipalities, be it Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, or any other big city, the majority of the entire city fall into the category of “an area near a school, day care center, or public housing.” It just so happens that these urban areas are also highly populated with individuals of low income. Unfortunately for these low-income residents of urban areas, the result is them being targeted for enhanced penalties on crimes that would otherwise be punished significantly less harshly in a different location.
Kenny from Torrington: Supports the bill because it requires that police will have to prove that a person “intended” to sell or possess narcotics within a school zone. The current law costs the state too much money to put people in prison for something they had no intention of doing.
Cynthia Day: Believes that mandatory minimums should be eliminated to provide the courts with the ability to impose substance abuse treatment to offenders. Public Housing needs to be removed from drug free zone statutes. There should also be a vote on a new Racial Ethnic Impact Statement that will give up-to-date information on the continued racial bias of drug free school zones in practice.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Reported by: Alex Tsarkov