Do Prison Sentence Enhancements Reduce Gun Crime? The Case of Project Exile

Steven Raphael, University of California, Berkeley
Jens Otto Ludwig, The Brookings Institution

This paper presents an analysis of the effects of enhancing prison penalties for gun crime by diverting gun offenders from state to federal courts. We begin by presenting the first systematic evaluation of the widely-cited Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia. We argue that the decline in Richmond gun homicide rates surrounding the implementation of Project Exile was not unusual and that the observed decrease would have been likely to occur in the absence of the program. This conclusion stems from two empirical findings. First, those cities with the highest homicide rates during the mid 1990's experience the largest decreases later in the decade. This pattern seems to be explained by the second finding that cities with the largest increases in homicide rates during the 1980s and early 1990s also experienced the largest decreases during the late 90s. Given these empirical relationships, we show that nearly all of the reduction in murder rates in Richmond following Project Exile may be attributed to the unusually high level and increase in gun homicide prior to Exile's implementation. We then test for a more general relationship between local Felon-in-Possession convictions and city-level homicide rates. Again, we find little statistically significant evidence of an impact.

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Updated 05/20/2006