Friday, December 23, 2016

Report: Pennsylvania should stop suspending driver's license for drug offense

A recent report from a criminal justice reform group said Pennsylvania should stop automatically suspending driver’s licenses for drug convictions not related to driving, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The report by the Prison Policy Initiative focuses on the 12 states, including Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C., that automatically suspend driver’s licenses for all drug convictions.
Such policies are a relic of the War on Drugs and should be changed, the report’s authors advocate.
These laws make it harder for those with such convictions to access jobs, the report said.
The report noted that only Virginia, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey suspend more licenses annually than Pennsylvania.
“These suspensions are part of a whole world of suspensions that are completely unrelated to driving,” such as suspensions for child support and unpaid court fines, said Joshua Aiken, policy fellow for the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative.
License suspensions should be reserved for unsafe drivers, he said, and not for other criminal justice issues.
“One unnecessary driver’s license suspension could throw any person’s life off track. But for people who are formerly incarcerated, or finishing probation/​parole, the consequences are especially harsh. At the very time people should be finding stable housing, securing employment, and reconnecting with their communities, drug-related license suspension laws remove a critical avenue to success,” the report stated.
A bill introduced in the last legislative session by state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, that would have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana also would have ended license suspension for that offense. Mr. Gainey could not be reached.
Patrick Nightingale, a local criminal defense attorney and marijuana reform activist, said in his view such suspensions are not a deterrent to drug use, and in fact force people to drive with suspended licenses.
“It’s absurd and I think it is having the opposite effect,” Mr. Nightingale said.
“Every one of our clients who we handle a suspension for, it is a barrier to employment,” said Morgan Jenkins, an attorney at the Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh, an organization that assists low-income people with legal issues.
In Ohio, a law passed earlier this year generally eliminated the mandatory six months to five years license suspension for specified drug-related offenses
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