The Geography of Punishment: How Huge Sentencing Enhancement Zones Harm Communities, Fail to Protect Children

Aleks Kajstura, Peter Wagner and William Goldberg, July 2008

Massachusetts currently enforces a strict mandatory minimum sentence for certain drug offenses committed near schools and parks. Originally adopted in 1989 and expanded twice,[1] the law is one of many statutes aimed at protecting children by steering drugs and related harmful behaviors away from areas where children congregate.

The sentencing enhancement zone laws have mostly escaped public scrutiny, despite a growing body of evidence that the zones fail to protect children and that defendants are often eligible for the mandatory minimums based on their places of residence, not the severity of their offenses.

Though the statute aims to protect children, its patterns of conviction indicate that it has more effectively created a two-tiered system of drug sentencing in Massachusetts. Because schools are more numerous in dense urban areas, most urban residents — including most of the state’s Black and Latino residents — face longer mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses than the state’s rural residents, who are predominantly White.

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