RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gun violence has claimed dozens of lives in Richmond this year, and now police are considering the return of project exile.
“There is a thing called project exile, we’re talking about re-engineering that and bringing it back,” said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham during a press conference Monday.
The idea was mentioned on the heels of a violent weekend in Richmond which saw the death of 12-year-old Amiya Moses.
“This year, especially in the summer months, we have experienced an increase in gun violence in the commission of violent crimes,” said Durham.
Project Exile was a federal program first started right here in Richmond in 1997. It shifted the prosecution of illegal gun possession offenses to federal court, where they carried a mandatory sentence of five years in prison.
“Essentially, going to Federal Court meant you were going to be treated a lot more harshly for any gun offense in Richmond in the 90’s,” said 8News legal expert Russ Stone.
In 1997, Richmond saw 140 murders. The next year that number dropped to just over 90, and by 2001 the number of homicides from 1997 was nearly cut in half to 70. According to a report by the US Attorney’s office in November of 1998, 372 people were indicted on gun violations, 440 guns were seized, 247 people were convicted and 196 people were sentenced to an average four-and-a-half years behind bars.
“It certainly had an impact,” Stone added.
The ACLU disagrees. In a statement to 8News, a spokesperson says, in part, “studies of Project Exile have questioned the connection between the program and subsequent reductions in homicide rates.”
But even Stone says bringing the program back now may not be as effective since Virginia has made it’s law more strict and closer aligned with federal sentencing guidelines.
“If you are trying to reduce 160 homicides a year, it’s a lot easier to do that than it is to do 35 homicides a year,” said Stone.