Some laws, despite the best intentions, have unintended, unjust consequences. Tennessee’s drug-free school zone law mandates a longer sentence for any drug crime committed within a 1000-foot radius of schools and certain other facilities. While these types of laws were enacted with the intent of protecting children, they are so broad that they result in unjustly long sentences for low-level drug offenses that take place a substantial distance from schools and do not involve children at all.
Currently, even a first-time offender’s sentence can double if they are in a drug-free zone at the time of the offense — even if they’re in their home or car and no children are present. Because the current 1,000-foot radius is so large — about three football fields — and is not always marked, many people have no way of knowing if and when they are in a drug-free zone. Consequently, people who had no intention of distributing drugs to children still receive extreme punishments as if they had.
SB 2062/HB 2111, as amended, would reduce the size of drug-free zones from 1000 feet to 500 feet around schools and other facilities, bringing the law more in line with its intent of actually protecting children and saving taxpayers over $3 million a year in incarceration expenses in the process.
Drug-free zones also disproportionately impact communities of color and people who live in cities where schools, libraries and parks are close to other parts of the community, including businesses and housing. Because African-American and Latino people are far more likely than white people to live within drug-free zones, they are automatically and unconstitutionally targeted for harsher penalties for the same offenses in comparison to other Tennesseans.
SB 2062/HB 2111 is a step forward in the fight for a more just and equal criminal justice system in Tennessee.