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Monday, July 15, 2024

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NJ Panel: Reduce Drug-Free School Zones, Hike Jail Time

By Joe Hart

TRENTON –– If recommendations from a state commission are accepted, current drug-free school zones would be reduced from 1,000 feet to 200 feet, but jail times for crimes committed in the zones would be increased.
According to a report from the Government Efficiency and Reform (GEAR) Commission, the current law placed an unfair burden on the state’s urban centers, such as Atlantic City and Camden, in which large areas are within school areas and public property, which is also a drug-free zone.
“For this reason, the current school zone law does not effectively deter drug activities in urban centers and the legislative purpose – to create a safe haven for children around schools – is thwarted,” the report stated.
The report also noted that minorities, who generally have large populations in cities, are being disproportionately affected by the drug-zones.
“Indeed, 96 percent of those incarcerated for school zone offenses are minorities,” the report said.
Although rural and suburban towns – such as those in Cape May County – are not affected in the way cities are, County Prosecutor Robert Taylor approves of changes.
“The County Prosecutors Association, including myself, supports the legislation,” Taylor told the Herald. “Of course we want to protect school children as much as possible, but we feel the compromise of reduced zone areas for increased jail times is fair and appropriate.”
GEAR recommended that offenses committed within the zone be upgraded from third degree crimes to second degree.
According to the report, the rate of imprisonment for current school zone convictions is 13 percent lower than that of second-degree offenses.
“In third degree crimes, there is a presumption against incarceration,” Taylor explained. “Whereas, with a second degree crime, jail time is more likely with a range of between five and 10 years.”
In a press release, state Attorney General Anne Milgram agreed, “This will toughen penalties for those who peddle drugs near our schools, which was the original intent of the legislation – to get the drug dealers away from our children.”
See the Dec. 12 edition of the Herald for the complete story.
Contact Hart at (609) 886-8600 Ext 35 or at: jhart@cmcherald.com

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