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Jeff Sessions And Donald Trump Both Back A Tough Gun Prosecutions Program

Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, has been an outspoken supporter of a crime-fighting program called Project Exile. The approach has fallen out of favor, but Trump indicated during the campaign that he wants to expand it.

I wrote in July about the history of Project Exile, which brought together police and prosecutors to take gun-crime cases to federal court in order to impose longer sentences in prisons far from home. It began in Richmond, Virginia, in 1997 and spread to many other cities, first one by one, and then more broadly in 2001 after George W. Bush took Exile national under the name Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Sessions has frequently praised Exile, along with its predecessors and offshoots. “We have the right approach,” Sessions said in a speech on the floor of the Senate in 2005. “It was proven by the U.S. attorney in Richmond. It is being replicated all over America today. The Attorney General [Alberto Gonzales] is driving this as one of his highest priorities, and if we stay on it, we are going to continue to see the murder rate in this country go down.”

But early promising reductions in gun violence in Richmond and other cities proved difficult to replicate or to tie definitively to the program. The national murder rate didn’t budge much for most of Bush’s presidency1 then started falling in 2008, Bush’s last year in office. (The gun murder rate followed a similar trajectory.) Obama de-emphasized and defunded Exile and its offshoots; neither the overall murder rate nor the gun-homicide rate rose for most of his presidency. But the murder rate rose sharply in 2015 and has continued to rise this year, fueling Trump’s campaign calls for an increased emphasis on law and order.

Trump’s campaign website has touted Exile’s success for over a year. It’s possible that Sessions praised Exile to Trump; they appeared together at a rally in Mobile, Alabama, in August 2015. Spokespeople for both men didn’t respond to requests for comment for my July article; I’ve contacted them again Friday to ask if Trump and Sessions plan to reintroduce Exile.


  1. There were 5.5 murders per 100,000 people the year before he took office, 5.6 his first year in office, and between 5.5 and 5.8 in each year through 2007.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.