TRENTON - A governor's task force yesterday recommended shrinking drug-free school zones across New Jersey.
The Government Efficiency and Reform Commission recommended reducing the zones' size by 80 percent, to 200 feet around a school, but increasing mandatory prison time for convicted dealers in the smaller zones.
"These reasonable changes have a broad base of support that includes every county prosecutor in New Jersey and a diverse group of leaders in the corrections and law enforcement community," Corzine said after receiving the report.
Drug-free school zones laws increase penalties for people convicted of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. However, Corzine and Attorney General Anne Milgram have called the laws largely ineffective at reducing drug crimes near schools.
Critics have said the laws discriminate against urban residents by blanketing large swaths of cities and filling jails with nonviolent offenders, sometimes crowding out more violent criminals.
A state sentencing commission drew similar conclusions two years ago, but an effort to change the law went nowhere.
Not everyone embraced yesterday's recommendations. Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) said he would oppose efforts to weaken the law, created in response to the 1980s crack cocaine explosion.
Codey said such laws send a signal to drug dealers that their behavior won't be tolerated, and help make community residents feel safer.
Despite that, Codey said he would not block the legislation from a Senate vote.
In a 2005 report, the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing recommended shrinking the drug-free zones and increasing mandatory sentences for anyone convicted of selling drugs in the new zones.
The commission found that students were involved in only 2 percent of cases examined. It said the zones around schools, parks and housing projects cover virtually all of some cities, and 96 percent of offenders jailed for zone violations were black or Hispanic.