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Friday, March 02, 2007

Drug Prosecutions (and others?) at a 5 Year Low

From the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University is a report on the number of illegal drug prosecutions brought last month:
According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number is down 13.7% over the previous month.

When monthly 2006 prosecutions are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, the filings were down (-11.2 percent). Prosecutions over the past year are still much lower than they were five years ago. Overall, the data show that the prosecutions are down 23.5 percent from levels reported in 2001.

Interesting time plot here

I wonder if this is a supply-side or a demand-side effect. One explanation is that previous enforcement and prosecution efforts, combined with higher incarceration rates and times, are reducing the number of people engaged in illegal drugs. Thus, whether through deterrence or incapacitation, the number of prosecutions observed would naturally decline; this would be a supply side effect.

On the other hand, prosecutions could fall if the government does not dedicate the same resources to enforcement/prosecution as in the past. Because prosecution is a vertically dependent industry, if the enforcement efforts upstream are reduced, i.e., there are fewer arrests, then the number of prosecutions would fall. In either case, this would seem to be a demand-side issue.

If you go to this list you see that the number of prosecutions seems to be falling across a broad spectrum of "crime types." To me, this suggests a demand-side effect, but that's only a hunch.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission's annual report has this graph (pdf file) which indicates that Federal drug-related convictions have an average incarceration time of 83 months (median = 60 months), whereas immigration convictions have an average incarceration time of 23.5 months (median = 18 months), and "economic offenses" have an average incarceration time of approximately 27 months (median = 18 months).

[For another shocker, check out the pleas vs. trials the Feds are able to secure.]

Yet another dissertation topic initiated here. Cite early, and cite often.

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