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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lesniak Cunningham Bill Amending The Drug Free School Zone Law

New Jersey made a huge move yesterday with the LESNIAK-CUNNINGHAM bill amending the New Jersey's drug-free school zone law, allowing judges more discretion when sentencing non-violent drug offenders. In a country with too many prisons housing primarily people with non-violent drug charges this is an amazing step towards more treatments and less prisons. New Jersey calculates that $48,000 is spent per person each year on imprisoning people that clearly would be better served in a drug treatment facility. The fact is that drug offenders who serve their time in prison, rather than treatment, have a much greater chance of winding up behind bars again. Unfortunately, New Jersey is not alone, the majority of all jails and prisons in the United States have more inmates convicted with drug related crimes than anything else.

It's pretty clear by now that America's approach on the drug war is failing, so much time and money is being spent imprisoning when we should be treating. The original drug-free school zone law is not doing what it was intended to do, as a result many people are being unfairly punished. The Star Ledger Reports, "The idea, hatched in the Legislature many years ago, was to protect children from drug dealers. But Hoffman's commission found that almost none of those charged under this law were on school grounds luring students. They were in nearby neighborhoods. And 96 percent of them were African-American or Latino". Inner-city kids are much more likely to get caught up with the law because just about everywhere you go in the city it is within a 1,000 feet of a school - in New Jersey and everywhere else in the country. Senator Cunningham believes that, "New Jersey needs to do a better job in getting violent offenders off the streets, whether it's drug offenses or criminal street gangs", according to the Politicker NJ. "However, we cannot and should not continue to turn a blind eye to the effects of mandatory minimum sentencing on nonviolent offenders, many of whom enter prison and are recruited into gangs or other violent criminal enterprises. Mandatory minimum sentencing has created more violence on our streets and a hamstrung judiciary, unable to direct nonviolent offenders to drug treatment programs".

We can only hope that other States will follow New Jerseys lead, just recently New York repealed the Rockefeller drug laws regarding cocaine which is another major step forward in the United States quest towards reducing prison populations as well as costs. I will be following these stories to see if these reforms are as successful as I hope they are. We encourage you to send us your thoughts on the subject.

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