What is Jeff Sessions’ Project Exile? Is it Effective?

Observations

Is Project Exile Donald Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ primary anti-violence effort?

Launched in 1997 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, homicides in Richmond exhibited a 22 percent yearly decline, compared with the average reduction of about 10 percent per year for other large U.S. cities.

Author

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

Article

Richmond, VA had a considerable violent crime problem in the 1990’s, and I was part of a team from the National Crime Prevention Council that went to the city and provided recommendations. The city eventually focused on gun carrying violent offenders backed by a media campaign to warn offenders of the consequences. Gun violators were tried in federal courts and sent to federal prison, thus “exiled.”

Project Exile was considered an effective program to reduce gun violence in Richmond. Launched in 1997 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, homicides in Richmond exhibited a 22 percent yearly decline, compared with the average reduction of about 10 percent per year for other large U.S. cities. The difference was statistically significant (the results were due to the intervention rather than by chance).

Attorney General Jeff Sessions states that he favors this approach in those cities experiencing an increase in violent crime. Sessions’ controls the US Attorney’s Offices, thus he can bring the power of US government to any city in the country.

Sessions Vows Expansion of Anti-Gun ‘Project Exile’ (From The Crime Report)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will expand the use of Project Exile, a program to reduce gun violence that FBI Director James Comey helped start in Richmond two decades ago when he was a federal prosecutor there, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. “We’ve seen a priority that’s slipped away from firearms on the federal level,” Sessions said, speaking to law enforcement officials. “Firearms prosecutions have gone down. This downward trend is going to end.” Project Exile is a widely copied program credited with cutting Richmond’s violent crime 20 years ago by shipping firearm violators to far-off federal prisons.

Project Exile’s effectiveness has been questioned and has been criticized by some for disproportionately hitting low-income African Americans. Sessions cited a need to be sensitive but to fight crime where it is found. He said it is people in those communities who plead for help. Sessions praised local police agencies for dramatic crime rate reductions and promised more federal assistance in stopping recent increases in violent offenses and an opioid epidemic. He noted that crime had fallen to historic lows in Richmond and across the U.S. in recent decades. Between 2014 and 2015, the violent crime rate in the U.S. increased by 3 percent, the largest increase since 1991, in what he believes is a trend that needs to be reversed. “I think our police departments are better trained, our prosecutors are better trained, we just know how to fight crime more effectively,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are alive today because of good police work — and because we’ve got a lot of murderers in jail. They’re not going to murder private citizens if they’re in the slammer, I can tell you that.” Richmond Times-Dispatch

Questions

We have questions as to the efficacy of Project Exile, and the research backing the claim of crime reductions.

There is one evaluation from Crime Solutions.Gov (below). Crime Solutions.Gov is an effort on the part of the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice to provide clarity as to what works in criminal justice. Evaluations of related violence intervention projects are available at Reducing Gun Violence.

Project Exile is rated as “promising,” rather than “effective.” Few programs evaluated by Crime Solutions.Gov are rated as “effective.” Most are rated as “promising,” or “no effects.”

Program Profile: Project Exile

Evidence Rating: Promising

Date: This profile was posted on May 04, 2015

Program Summary

A crime reduction strategy in Richmond, Virginia implemented to deter former and would-be offenders from carrying and using firearms, with an overall goal of reducing firearm-related homicides. The project is rated Promising. Firearm-related homicides decreased significantly in the target area, compared with other U.S. cities where the program was not implemented.

Program Description

Program Goals
Project Exile was a crime reduction strategy launched in 1997 in Virginia, by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as a result of the spike in violent crime rates in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During these years, Richmond, Virginia consistently ranked among the top 10 U.S. cities in homicides per capita. Specifically, in 1994, Richmond was ranked 2nd for homicides per capita, with a homicide rate of 80 per 100,000 residents. Overall, the goal of the project was to deter felons from carrying firearms and decrease firearm-related homicides through both sentence enhancements for firearm-related offenses and incapacitating violent felons (Rosenfeld, Fornango, and Baumer 2005).

Program Activities
Essentially functioning as a sentence enhancement program, Project Exile targeted felons who were caught carrying firearms (i.e., felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm [FIP]) and prosecuted them in federal courts where they received harsher sentences, no option of bail, and no potential for early release. Prior to Project Exile, FIP cases could be processed in state courts. Through increasing the expected penalty for firearm-related offenses, Project Exile sought to deter both firearm carrying and criminal use. Additionally, through sentencing more violent offenders to longer prison sentences, the program sought to reduce crime through incapacitating violent felons (Rosenfeld, Fornango, and Baumer 2005; Arends 2013).

In addition to incapacitating offenders, the program sought to deter would-be offenders. To make the public aware of the sentence enhancements surrounding firearms, a broad “outreach” campaign was implemented using media outlets. The public campaign was implemented to increase community involvement and to send a message of zero-tolerance for firearm offenses. The goal of the message was to indicate a “swift and certain” federal penalty for firearm offenses. Advertised in both electronic and print media outlets, the campaign was featured on city buses and business cards displaying a specific message: “an illegal gun will get you five years in federal prison” (Rosenfeld, Fornango, and Baumer 2005).

Program Theory
Project Exile has roots in both deterrence and incapacitation. Deterrence theory posits that crimes can be prevented when the costs of committing the crime are perceived by the offender to outweigh the benefits of committing the crime (Braga et al. 2001). For deterrence to obtain the maximum result (i.e., to deter the most criminal behaviors), the punishment should be swift, certain, and severe. Incapacitation is a punishment strategy that focuses on the prevention of crime by temporary or permanent physical removal of the offender from society. It is believed that removing offenders from the population will limit their opportunities for committing

Incapacitation is a punishment strategy that focuses on the prevention of crime by temporary or permanent physical removal of the offender from society. It is believed that removing offenders from the population will limit their opportunities for committing crime, therefore potentially reducing crime rates (Raphael and Ludwig 2003).

Evaluation Outcomes

Firearm Homicide Rates, Project Exile
Rosenfeld and colleagues (2005) found a statistically significant intervention effect for Project Exile. Firearm homicides in Richmond exhibited a 22 percent yearly decline, compared with the average reduction of about 10 percent per year for other large U.S. cities. The difference is statistically significant.

Evaluation Methodology

Rosenfeld and colleagues (2005) used a quasi-experimental design to examine the impact of Project Exile on homicides in Richmond, Virginia. A growth curve model was used to compare firearm homicide rates in Richmond with firearm homicide rates in a comparison area, between 1992 and 2001. The comparison area was composed of 95 of the largest cities in the United States. To be eligible for inclusion in the comparison area, a city had to have a 1990 population of 175,000 or more over the period of 1992–2001.

Well-established covariates of homicide were used to obtain unbiased estimates of the impact of Project Exile on firearm homicide rates, including social and economic disadvantage, police density, and crack cocaine markets. Measures of social and economic disadvantage and population density were obtained from the 1990 Census and 2000 Census. Measures of police density were obtained from the Law Enforcement Management and Administration Statistics (LEMAS) survey. A proxy measure of cocaine use among arrestees was collected from the Drug Use Forecasting (DUH) and Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) data available between 1990 and 2000.

Homicide data were collected through the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR). A hierarchical generalized linear model was used to analyze change over time both within the target city at the varying time points, and between the target city and comparison cities at the varying time points.

Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Rosenfeld, Richard, Robert Fornango, and Eric Baumer. 2005. “Did Ceasefire, Compstat, and Exile Reduce Homicide?” Criminology & Public Policy 4(3):419–50.

Additional References

These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Arends, Ross. 2013. “Project Exile: Still the Model for Firearms Crime Reduction Strategies.” The Police Chief 80(11):56–59.

Braga, Anthony A., David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl. 2001. “Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38(3):195–225.

Raphael, Steven, and Jens Ludwig. 2003. “Prison Sentence Enhancements: The Case of Project Exile.” Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence 251:274–77. (This study was reviewed but did not meet Crime Solutions Criteria for inclusions in the overall program rating).

Related Practices

Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Reducing Gun Violence

Reducing gun violence is a persistent public policy concern for communities, policymakers and leaders. To reduce gun violence, several strategies have been deployed including public health approaches (e.g., training and safe gun storage); gun buy-back programs; gun laws; and law enforcement strategies. The practice is rated Promising for reducing violent gun offenses.

Sources:

The Crime Report at http://thecrimereport.org/

Crime Solutions.Gov at https://www.crimesolutions.gov/

Crime Solutions article on Project Exile at https://www.crimesolutions.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?ID=413

 

Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com.

Media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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  1. […] The Attorney General also wants a return to Project Exile where federal prosecutors will focus more on violence within high crime communities, see Project Exile. […]

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