Throughout out his term in office, President Trump has repeatedly disparaged Chicago for its “out of control” gun violence. He has threatened to send in federal reinforcements to combat the issue. This week, the administration took action.
The Department of Justice announced that it is creating 311 new Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) positions, focusing on three keys areas: violent crime (190 prosecutors), civil enforcement—predominantly aimed at targeting the opioid epidemic (86 prosecutors) and immigration (35 prosecutors). Of the new violent crime prosecutors, six are designated for Illinois—four for northern Illinois specifically.
The spike in AUSA positions represents the steepest increase in decades. Attorney General Jeff Sessions touted the move as a great victory, but what is the likely impact of this change? The exacerbation of the already extreme mass incarceration problem in the country?
Sessions has repeatedly voiced his opinion that the way to combat violent crime is to increase incarceration. However, many experts criticize Sessions’ overly-simplified understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship associated with violent crime.
In fact, there is a wealth of research demonstrating that increased incarceration fails to reduce crime rates. In a recent study published the Open Philanthropy Project, economist David Roodman found that “the best estimate of the impact of additional incarceration on crime in the United States today is zero.” Meanwhile, Americans pay $170 billion each year for a system that doesn’t achieve its intended outcome.
Critics view the DOJ’s decision to increase AUSAs for violent crimes as short-sighted. There is little evidence to suggest that locking people up is the best way to curtail violent crime.