Drug Prosecutions Hit 25-Year Low, Gun Prosecutions Up Under Sessions DOJ

Attorney General Jeff Sessions / Getty
• July 28, 2017 2:28 pm


Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, federal gun prosecutions are up 23 percent while drug prosecutions have hit a 25-year low, according to two new reports.

On Thursday, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a project at Syracuse University, reported new data that shows "fewer drug offenders were federally prosecuted over the past 12 months than at any time during the last quarter century."

TRAC found only 8,814 drug offenders prosecuted under federal law in the first five months of the Trump administration, compared to 9,687 in the same five months of 2016. That number is also down 27.6 percent from numbers reported five years ago.

The report did not speculate on the cause of the decline. A Pew study found in March that overall federal criminal prosecutions are at their lowest level in almost two decades, having declined for five consecutive years since 2011. In general, the overwhelming majority of prisoners are held in state and local, rather than federal, prisons.

The lower numbers of drug prosecutions are surprising given Sessions' stated goal of aggressively combatting drug crime. Motivated partly by the ongoing opioid epidemic, which may have claimed as many as 60,000 lives in 2016, Sessions has pushed for tougher sentencing for drug crimes, rolled back Obama-era rules limiting asset seizure, and even sought to prosecute medical marijuana providers.

On Friday, meanwhile, the Department of Justice announced that federal gun prosecutions have increased by 23 percent in the second quarter of 2017, compared to the same period last year. The department has pursued 2,637 convictions in the second quarter of this year, up from 2,149 last year.

The increase in gun prosecutions was prompted by Sessions' March memo to prosecutors instructing them to prioritize firearms offenses, the Justice Department said. In the three months following, charges of unlawful possession of a firearm increased by 23 percent compared to 2016, and charges of using a firearm in a crime of violence or trafficking increased by 10 percent.

The increase in prosecutions "sends a clear message to criminals all over this country that if you carry a gun illegally, you will be held accountable," Sessions said. "I am grateful to the many federal prosecutors and agents who are working hard every day to make America safe again."

The Justice Department projects it will charge 12,626 gun crime defendants in 2017, the most since 2005.