Paul Elias of the Associated Press reports that prosecutions for child pornography are soaring–arrests are growing at a 2,500 percent rate:
The FBI has made more than 10,000 arrests since 1996 and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reports a similar number of arrests since its creation in 2003. The U.S. Department of Justice says prosecutions are up 40 percent since 2006 resulting in roughly 9,000 cases. In 2009, 2,315 suspects were indicted. Local authorities across the country are also stepping up their child pornography investigations, which often require little more than a technically savvy agent, a high-speed Internet connection and so-called peer-to-peer software that millions of computer owners use to legally – and illegally – swap music, videos and other digital files.
The clampdown comes in the wake of federal lawmakers’ concerns over the increasing technological tools at the disposal of those who make and consume child porn. Meanwhile, the sentences for such crimes had been growing as well. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a mandatory 5-year minimum in prison for child porn; judges, however, have in the past been encouraged to go over that minimum.
Is this massive campaign against child porn working? Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder basically said that it’s not. While calling for more funding for more federal prosecutors devoted to bringing such cases, Holder also made a somewhat contradictory statement: ”Government cannot solve the child pornography crisis in America unless it takes a broader approach than currently pursued and looks to the root causes of such deviancy.”
Judges, it seems, are becoming more skeptical of this approach as well. They increasingly disfavor the lengthy sentences prosecutors ask for in child porn cases, so long as the defendant is not accused of also engaging in sexual assault. According to the Wall Street Journal, judges are using their discretion to sentence below the minimum once required by federal law:
In the 12 months ended September 2009, federal judges gave prison sentences below the guidelines in 44% of cases in which individuals obtained child pornography or shared it with others, up from 27.2% two years earlier, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a federal agency that develops the guidelines. Those figures exclude cases in which judges gave lighter sentences at the prosecutors’ request. In the same two-year period, the rate by which judges gave below-guideline sentences for all criminal cases rose to 16.9% from 12.5%.
Who’s right, then? Can the threat of long prison sentences deter those involved in child pornography? Or is there a more comprehensive way of waging war on child porn?