National Criminal Justice Reform Organizations Call for Drug-Free School Zone Reform in Tennessee

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Post Date: November 9, 2017

Contact: Rabiah Burks

rburks@famm.org

202.822.6700

National Criminal Justice Reform Organizations Call for Drug-Free School Zone Reform in Tennessee

NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s drug-free school zone law, originally intended to shield children from the illegal distribution and purchasing of drugs, is being unfairly applied in cases where children are not involved or even in the vicinity of the unlawful transactions. These individuals nevertheless receive lengthy mandatory sentences that far exceed any public safety demand. In an effort to raise awareness of this problem, a coalition of national criminal justice reform organizations sent a letter today to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to urge him to support drug-free school zone reform.

“I have no doubt that the drafters of Tennessee’s law had good intentions,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “But since its adoption, this law has produced some horribly unjust and counterproductive sentences. It was designed to protect children, but it is hurting Tennessee’s families without making them any safer.” 

The letter, signed by FAMM, Right on Crime, Reason Foundation, R Street Institute, and FreedomWorks, encourages the governor to make school zone reform a priority during Tennessee’s 2018 legislative session.

Under current Tennessee law, any person who commits a drug crime within 1,000 feet of a school, child care agency, public library, recreational center, or park could have more than a decade of prison time added to their sentence.

“While the law was enacted with the best of intentions, the large size and scope of Tennessee’s drug-free school zones have effectively swallowed whole towns and cities across the state,” said Lauren Krisai, director of criminal justice reform at Reason Foundation. “It’s time for Tennessee to shrink the size of these zones and allow for more discretion so that low-level offenders are no longer sentenced to the same amount of time in prison as dealers who want to endanger children.”

Krisai said that many defendants are unaware they’re in a drug-free school zone and are subjected to the sentence enhancement for crimes they committed in their own cars or homes.

“Policies that protect the most vulnerable of our society, our children, from illicit drug activity are vital. This is the intended purpose of the sentencing enhancements associated with Tennessee’s drug-free school zones,” said Julie Warren of Right on Crime. “From a fiscal standpoint, however, it is also important that these policies be narrowly tailored to mitigate against application outside the scope of purpose.” 

Previous efforts to reform this law have come close to passage, and the coalition hopes that 2018 will be the year that Tennessee passes commonsense reform.  

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