US Marijuana Party

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Changes urged in guidelines for prison sentences

Reducing drug-free zones and eliminating minimum terms should help ease crowding, a state official said.

Philadelphia Inquirer, PA
Associated Press

TRENTON - Shrinking drug-free zones around schools and eliminating mandatory minimum prison terms are among the recommendations expected Wednesday from a commission created to review New Jersey's criminal sentencing laws.

State Corrections Commissioner Devon Brown, one of the panel's members, told the City Council in Washington on Tuesday that such changes were needed because current laws had resulted in crowded prisons. He was there to be interviewed for the city's corrections chief job.

The commission also will recommend reducing the size of drug-free zones around parks, museums, libraries and public housing, the Star-Ledger of Newark reported yesterday.

Under the commission's proposal, those convicted of drug dealing in such areas would still face prison time, but not mandatory minimum sentences.

Ben Barlyn, the commission's executive director, said yesterday that the report would provide a wealth of data to back up the recommendations.

The Legislature created the commission in January 2004 to study sentencing guidelines and create a proposal to make them more proportional and fair while better serving public safety. The 15 members include lawmakers, state officials and criminal justice experts.

A response to the urban crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s, the drug-free zones were meant to discourage drug dealing in areas where children congregate. But they have been criticized because they cover huge swaths of cities, where residents, mostly minorities, get long stretches in prison for drug dealing.

Assemblyman Michael Carroll (R., Morris), one of the commission's members, said the zones, although popular with parents, are unworkable in their present form. He said he favored turning the entire state into a drug-free zone, or establishing sentencing related to the nature of a crime, not where it takes place.

"It's one of those well-meaning but senseless rules," Carroll told the Star-Ledger. "Drawing arbitrary lines on a map is really kind of silly."


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