A newly released study of gambling certain sex offenses and drug arrests in the District suggests that law enforcement authorities should reconsider whether limited resources should be spent on prosecution of these so-called "victimless crimes."
The study, financed by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, raises long debated questions about whether acts between consenting adults - like prostitution - should be crimes, and if so, how much effort should be devoted to enforcement.
Persons convicted of victimless crimes rarely spent time in jail and usually had no prior record of violence or other criminal offenses, the study found.
Although society may want to demonstrate its disapproval of such acts through its laws, the enforcement may accomplish little in terms of deterring people from committing the acts or preventing other crimes that are said to be their by-product - such as links between gambling and organized crime.
The study suggests that officials should consider whether limited law enforcement resources would better be spent on pursuit of more serious offenders.
The study, conducted for the LEAA by the Washington-based Institute for Law and Social Research (INSLAW), is based on data drawn from cases brought to the D.C. Superior Court in 1973 , 1974 and the first six months of 1976.
The report is one of 17 studies of Washington's criminal justice system conducted by INSLAW through a $1.5 million grant from LEAA.
In the first six months of 1976, 21 percent of the defendants brought to the Superior Court were charged with victimless crimes, the study said. Data on convictions, available for 1973, showed 83.8 percent of the defendants were given a suspended sentence or a fine or were placed on probation, according to the study.
The typical person arrested for gambling in the first half of 1976 was a black, middle-aged man with no prior record who was resident of the District, according to the study, written by Dr. William F. McDonald of the Georgetown University Law Center.
The study called for reassessment of the police argument that enforcement of gambling laws prevent related violence and fights organized crime, because the data shows persons arrested for gambling are actually "less crime-prone than other defendants studied.
The white middle-class offender with no prior criminal record who did not live in the District dominated the class of persons arrested in 1976 for sexual solicitation, the study said.
While such arrests may deter violence associated with prostitution - like robbery - the study questions whether the prevention achieved is significant enough to warrant the arrests. The study suggests that a better enforcement strategy might be confinement of prostitution to specific locations or high fines for those arrested.
It was reported in January that D.C. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson said he favored legalization of prostitution and thought the activity could be better controlled if it were kept in certain locations and if prostitutes were required to undergo health inspections.