The numbers look even worse when adjusted for population growth over that period.
Incidentally — apropos of, oh, nothing in the news recently — official corruption prosecutions have also been trending downward over the past 20 years, though they’re on pace to be slightly higher in fiscal 2019 than fiscal 2018.
So why are these kinds of prosecutions down? It seems unlikely that fewer crimes are being committed. As I’ve noted before, there are a number of other possible explanations.
After 9/11, resources were diverted away from white-collar enforcement and toward terrorism investigations. Congress has also slashed the Internal Revenue Service’s budget in recent years, reducing resources for audits and bringing down referrals for prosecutions. IRS-referred criminal prosecutions — for all crimes, though, unsurprisingly, about 70 percent of them are categorized as “white-collar” — are also on pace to reach their lowest level on record. They’re less than a third of what they were at their peak, which was reached in 1993.
Jesse Eisinger argues in his book “The Chickens--- Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives” that the Justice Department has also gotten more risk-averse when it comes to tackling white-collar crime. Federal attorneys have become warier of losing cases, have become likelier to settle, etc.
Eisinger’s reporting offers a number of vivid anecdotes to this effect, and recent TRAC data appear to back him up. The percent of white-collar criminal prosecutions that ultimately result in convictions has risen over time, from about 80 percent in the early 1990s to closer to 90 percent today. Perhaps that just means federal prosecutors have gotten better at their jobs … but it might also mean that prosecutors are unwilling to take on a case unless they know it’s a slam dunk.