by Aleks Kajstura, Peter Wagner, and William Goldberg
Prison Policy Initiative
In preparation for this report, we set out to investigate whether 1,000 feet is an appropriate size for a sentencing enhancement zone. As illustrated above, the statute’s requirement that the distance be measured in a straight line, regardless of obstructions, puts many far-reaching areas under the law’s jurisdiction. We set out to discover whether people can be seen 1,000 feet from a school under ideal circumstances.
We sought out a school on a flat, straight and unobstructed road, but we had considerable difficulty finding such a location. We eventually found a street in West Springfield that fit our criteria and then, because common household tools are incapable of measuring such large distances, we purchased a measuring wheel typically used for surveying. One author then stood on the school’s property line and took pictures of another author at various distances from the property. Each image at left is a closeup of the actual photograph at right.
For the purposes of this demonstration, we attempted to evaluate the sentencing enhancement zones by making the 1,000 feet as small and clear as possible, even though conditions this favorable are rare. The effort and equipment required, even under the best of circumstances, to measure the 1,000 feet suggest that the average person is unequipped to determine the borders of a zone. This would be a much more difficult task if — as is usually the case — the view of the school is obstructed and not useful for estimating a distance. The 1,000-foot distance itself is so far that it reduces a person to a speck, as can be seen in the pictures, and is much farther than is conducive to a transaction or easy communication. It is not reasonable to assume that someone anywhere within 1,000 feet from school property intends to sell drugs to children at the school. We can only conclude that the legislature erred in assuming that 1,000 feet was an effective distance with which to deter drug dealers from operating near schools.
Illustrations by Dennis McGinnis