Enforcement of Civil Rights Law Declined Since ’99, Study Finds
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (AP) – Federal enforcement of civil rights laws has dropped sharply since 1999, as the level of complaints received by the Justice Department has remained relatively constant, according a study released Sunday.
Criminal charges of civil rights violations were brought against 84 defendants last year, down from 159 in 1999, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The study also found that the number of times the Federal Bureau of Investigation or another federal investigative agency recommended prosecution in civil rights cases fell by more than one-third, from more than 3,000 in 1999 to just over 1,900 last year. Federal court data also show that the government has sought fewer civil sanctions against civil rights violators.
One of the study’s authors, David Burnham, said the results showed that civil rights enforcement dropped across the board in President Bush’s first term in office. “Collectively, some violators of the civil rights laws are not being dealt with by the government,” Professor Burnham said. “This trend, we think, is significant.”
It is unlikely the decline has occurred because of fewer civil rights violations occurring, the study suggests. The number of complaints about possible violations received by the Justice Department has remained at about 12,000 annually for each of the past five years.
The Justice Department had no comment about the study.
When he announced his resignation on Nov. 9, Attorney General John Ashcroft listed as one of the department’s accomplishments a statistic that showed the number of civil rights prosecutions was slightly higher over the past three years than the previous three-year period. Mr. Ashcroft also said the department had tripled the number of defendants charged in human trafficking cases compared with the previous three years.
The Syracuse report gives no conclusive reasons for the reduction over five years in civil rights enforcement but speculates that it could have resulted from federal prosecutors and investigators having spent far more time than in previous years on terrorism cases after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Civil rights cases made up a tiny fraction of the Justice Department’s total of 99,341 criminal prosecutions in 2003. The study found, however, that only civil rights and environmental prosecutions were down from 1999 to 2003 as the total caseload rose by about 10 percent.
By far the biggest criminal prosecution category is illegal drugs, at about 33,100 cases last year, followed by immigration, weapons violations, white-collar crime and others. The study was based on data collected from the Justice Department, federal courts and Congressional budget documents. Autor: AP