Project Exile: What To Know About Jeff Sessions' Plan To Reduce Crime

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims he wants to push a '90s "tough-on-crime" program called Project Exile across the U.S. — but what is it?

Project Exile: What To Know About Jeff Sessions' Plan To Reduce Crime
Getty Images / Win McNamee

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a plan to reduce crime across the nation — a plan called Project Exile that's nearly two decades old.

"We need to enforce our laws; we will put bad people behind bars," Sessions said in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday.

Sessions called the plan "a very discreet, effective policy" and said he will "promote it nationwide."

So what is it?

Project Exile was first implemented in Richmond, Virginia, in 1997 to reduce violent crime. It shifts the prosecution of some illegal gun possession charges to federal court, which carries a mandatory five-year sentence and sends those convicted to federal prison, which is usually much farther away than state prison.

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In Virginia, the program was particularly popular. One year after it went into effect in Richmond, the city saw a 32 percent drop in murders and more than 240 people were convicted in federal court. Subsequently, similar programs were implemented in Rochester, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Atlanta, Georgia; and elsewhere.

And while Richmond undoubtedly had significant success during the program's first two years, experts are still torn on its effectiveness years later.

Two major research papers reached different conclusions: One claimed crime would have subsided anyway as part of a national trend, and the other said Project Exile played a significant role in reducing violent crime.

Critics also say the program disproportionately affects the black community.

"I will send in what I have to send in, ... but you can't have those killings going on in Chicago," Donald Trump said during an interview with ABC. "Chicago is like a war zone."

Sessions met with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday, who has similarly called for tougher sentences for gun crimes in Illinois.

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"The goal of this is not to incarcerate more people," Johnson told Illinois lawmakers. "In fact, the goal is to incarcerate less people."

Nationally, violent crime is still at a historic low, but Sessions says he believes the uptick in homicides in some cities like Chicago is indicative of a larger trend that needs to be confronted.