From the June 2000 Idaho Observer:
The Federales are coming: Federal law enforcement on the rise
By Don Harkins
For the first time ever, the Bureau of Justice (BOJ) released a comprehensive federal arrest data report May 24, 2000. The report shows that the numbers of federal arrests, prosecutions and convictions are increasing. The ranks of federal law enforcement agencies are also increasing. The statistics are a real indication that federal police power and presence is growing. The growth has ostensibly been attributed to the federal government's ever expanding war on drugs and its efforts to curtail illegal immigration.
According to Michael Hedges of the Scripps Howard News Service, quoting the BOJ report, federal agents arrested 106,139 people in 1998. Almost half of those apprehended were for drug law or immigration violations. More than 43,000 people were sent to prison that year for an average sentence of almost five years, Hedges reported.
The BOJ reported that there were 83,000 federal law enforcement officers in 1998. The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshall's service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the four Justice Department agencies which are responsible for 75 percent of federal criminal investigations, employ 33,000 agents and administrative staff.
That number has risen steadily since 1993, when there were 69,000 federal agents, with about 24,000 of them in the DEA, FBI and immigration and marshals services, observed Hedges.
From 1997 to 1998, the numbers of people brought before a federal judge rose from 69,351 to 78,172 -- an increase of 12.7 percent. The feds were able to convict 87 percent of the 78,172, usually as a result of a guilty plea, commented Hedges.
Approximately 80 percent of defendants currently plead guilty in federal court to avoid stiffer sentences.
The incarceration rate, along with the number of federal agents, arrests, prosecutions and convictions, has also increased over the last ten years. In 1998, 71 percent of those found guilty were incarcerated, compared to just 60 percent in 1990.
Hedges reported that, Since 1990, the number of people being held in federal jails awaiting trial or deportation has grown rapidly from just over 140,000 to more than 200,000. The number of inmates in federal prison is up more than 90 percent for the same period, from 57,000 to 109,000.
The increasing presence of federal agents in traditionally state law enforcement matters is drawing much concern from people who understand the historical significance of centralized authority.
Under our constitutional system, the federal government is supposed to have a very limited crime-fighting role, said Tim Lynch, an analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C.
But for the past 20 years, it seems every session of Congress has escalated the drug war, and that has led to an increase in federal agents, and federal prisons and the federal court system.
The war on drugs will never be won at the federal level as congressional Iran/Contra hearings of the mid 80s proved that the federal government has profited immensely from the large-scale trafficking of drugs within the U.S. Yet fighting the drug war has been Congress' leading justification of an expansion of federal police presence.
Lynch said the growing presence of federal authority in America, represents a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is the success of a bureaucracy. As you federalize more crimes and expand federal law, you increase the number of arrests and convictions.
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