(Delaware County Daily Times) With Pennsylvania facing the prospect of boarding 2,000 inmates in other states because our prisons are full, the time has come to take a hard look at how we sentence convicted offenders, particularly through mandatory minimum sentences, to save money.
I authored legislation, House Resolution 12, and served on the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission advisory committee my legislation created that studied the use and impact of mandatory minimum sentences.One key suggestion was eliminating the mandatory minimum sentence of two years for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. Unfortunately, the drug-free school zone law is not written in a way that attacks the problem of someone selling drugs to a minor.
For example, if one person transfers a small amount of marijuana to another person in an apartment that happens to be in a drug-free school zone, they would face two years in prison. They could be people with no prior record who hold a steady job. A long prison term would do no good because they would probably be better helped through treatment.
Drug-free school zones cover big parts of metropolitan areas, so the law does not effectively target sales to minors. For example, my Harrisburg office is in three drug-free schools zones. Besides, there’s already a law in place that mandates a one-year sentence for the sale of drugs to a minor.
I understand and support long sentences for people who pose a danger to society. But the reality is we have a limited amount of prison cells and a limited amount of money for our correction system. We want to make sure we use it smart; use it in the right way.
State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-166, of Haverford, serves on the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee.
Another thing to consider about the drug-free school zones – the urban areas mentioned that are blanketed by these zones are also the areas most often populated by poorer and minority populations. The suburbs, often white and well-off, usually have their schools farther away from where they live. Thus the drug-free school zones act to amplify the already racist nature of drug law enforcement in this country.