Project Exile was a crime reduction strategy launched in 1997 in Virginia, by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as a result of the spike in violent crime rates in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During these years, Richmond, Virginia consistently ranked among the top 10 U.S. cities in homicides per capita. Specifically, in 1994, Richmond was ranked 2nd for homicides per capita, with a homicide rate of 80 per 100,000 residents. Overall, the goal of the project was to deter felons from carrying firearms and decrease firearm-related homicides through both sentence enhancements for firearm-related offenses and incapacitating violent felons (Rosenfeld, Fornango, and Baumer 2005).
Essentially functioning as a sentence enhancement program, Project Exile targeted felons who were caught carrying firearms (i.e., felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm [FIP]) and prosecuted them in federal courts where they received harsher sentences, no option of bail, and no potential for early release. Prior to Project Exile, FIP cases could be processed in state courts. Through increasing the expected penalty for firearm-related offenses, Project Exile sought to deter both firearm carrying and criminal use. Additionally, through sentencing more violent offenders to longer prison sentences, the program sought to reduce crime through incapacitating violent felons (Rosenfeld, Fornango, and Baumer 2005; Arends 2013).
In addition to incapacitating offenders, the program sought to deter would-be offenders. To make the public aware of the sentence enhancements surrounding firearms, a broad “outreach” campaign was implemented using media outlets. The public campaign was implemented to increase community involvement and to send a message of zero-tolerance for firearm offenses. The goal of the message was to indicate a “swift and certain” federal penalty for firearm offenses. Advertised in both electronic and print media outlets, the campaign was featured on city buses and business cards displaying a specific message: “an illegal gun will get you five years in federal prison” (Rosenfeld, Fornango, and Baumer 2005).
Project Exile has roots in both deterrence and incapacitation. Deterrence theory posits that crimes can be prevented when the costs of committing the crime are perceived by the offender to outweigh the benefits of committing the crime (Braga et al. 2001). For deterrence to obtain the maximum result (i.e., to deter the most criminal behaviors), the punishment should be swift, certain, and severe.
Incapacitation is a punishment strategy that focuses on the prevention of crime by temporary or permanent physical removal of the offender from society. It is believed that removing offenders from the population will limit their opportunities for committing crime, therefore potentially reducing crime rates (Raphael and Ludwig 2003).
Firearm Homicide Rates, Project Exile
Rosenfeld and colleagues (2005) found a statistically significant intervention effect for Project Exile. Firearm homicides in Richmond exhibited a 22 percent yearly decline, compared with the average reduction of about 10 percent per year for other large U.S. cities. The difference is statistically significant.
Rosenfeld and colleagues (2005) used a quasi-experimental design to examine the impact of Project Exile on homicides in Richmond, Virginia. A growth curve model was used to compare firearm homicide rates in Richmond with firearm homicide rates in a comparison area, between 1992 and 2001. The comparison area was composed of 95 of the largest cities in the United States. To be eligible for inclusion in the comparison area, a city had to have a 1990 population of 175,000 or more over the period of 1992–2001.
Well-established covariates of homicide were used to obtain unbiased estimates of the impact of Project Exile on firearm homicide rates, including social and economic disadvantage, police density, and crack cocaine markets. Measures of social and economic disadvantage and population density were obtained from the 1990 Census and 2000 Census. Measures of police density were obtained from the Law Enforcement Management and Administration Statistics (LEMAS) survey. A proxy measure of cocaine use among arrestees was collected from the Drug Use Forecasting (DUH) and Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) data available between 1990 and 2000.
Homicide data were collected through the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR). A hierarchical generalized linear model was used to analyze change over time both within the target city at the varying time points, and between the target city and comparison cities at the varying time points.
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Arends, Ross. 2013. “Project Exile: Still the Model for Firearms Crime Reduction Strategies.” The Police Chief
Braga, Anthony A., David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl. 2001. “Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Raphael, Steven, and Jens Ludwig. 2003. “Prison Sentence Enhancements: The Case of Project Exile.” Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence
251:274–77. (This study was reviewed but did not meet Crime Solutions Criteria for inclusions in the overall program rating).
Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:Reducing Gun Violence
Reducing gun violence is a persistent public policy concern for communities, policymakers and leaders. To reduce gun violence, several strategies have been deployed including public health approaches (e.g., training and safe gun storage); gun buy-back programs; gun laws; and law enforcement strategies. The practice is rated Promising for reducing violent gun offenses.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
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