Illinois legislators moved to review drug-free “safe zone” laws after a Chicago Tribune article detailed the disproportionate effects of drug laws on offenders of different races. The General Assembly voted to create a task force to study state laws on safe zones and recommend whether they should be amended. The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, would require the task force to report to the governor and state lawmakers by November.
The “safe zone” laws increase penalties for drug sales near schools, churches and other public places and blanket many densely populated minority neighborhoods. Blacks make up 13 percent of the nation’s illicit drug users, but they constitute 32 percent of those arrested for drug violations and 53 percent of those incarcerated in state prisons for drug crimes, according to federal data. In Illinois, an estimated 14 percent of drug users are black, but 65 percent of those arrested for drug offenses are black. Sixty-six percent of inmates who are in Illinois prisons for drug offenses are black.