Skip Navigation
Press Release

Trump Administration Sounds False Alarms on Crime to Promote Draconian Law Enforcement Policies

A new Brennan Center analysis finds aggressive prosecutions, increased immigration arrests, and more create an uncertain future for reform efforts.

February 8, 2018

Brennan Center Finds Aggressive Prosecutions, Increased Immigration Arrests Create Uncertain Future for Reform Efforts

New York, N.Y. –  As Attorney General Jeff Sessions marks one-year in office tomorrow, a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law documents the sweeping changes he and the Trump Administration have made to criminal justice and immigration policy, quantifies the impact to date, and identifies what Americans can expect moving forward in the months and years to come.
Criminal Justice One Year Into the Trump Administration examines how the executive branch has used memoranda or more subtle changes in enforcement strategy to reverse Obama-era reforms and implement a more draconian law enforcement strategy. Their efforts threaten to increase the federal prison population and disrupt state and local movements for reform that have broad, bipartisan backing.
“From day one at the Inauguration podium, Trump immediately shifted how federal officials talk about criminal justice issues,” said Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “He has sounded false alarms about rising crime nationwide and wrongly linked immigration to both this phantom increase and the opioid crisis. He preys on people’s fears to try to justify these ineffective and overreaching policies from his administration.”

Researchers note that:

  • The administration’s changes to policy have so far focused on increasing aggressive prosecutorial practices, changing federal drug enforcement policy, decreasing oversight of problematic police practices, and resurrecting rhetoric around fear of crime.
  • In fiscal year 2017, arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials rose by more than 30 percent. Arrests of individuals with no criminal conviction increased 146 percent from fiscal year 2016. ICE increased its use of detainers, or requests that local law enforcement hold someone in custody and hand them over to federal law enforcement authorities, by 65 percent. And, the number of detainers that local law enforcement declined to honor also rose.
  • Opioid deaths are expected to rise in 2017 and surpass the record of nearly 50,000 deaths in 2016.
  • The White House is poised to support federal legislation that improves formerly incarcerated individuals’ reentry into society, but has not made a commitment to back federal sentencing reform efforts with bipartisan support.  

“In some areas the effects of Trump’s changes to policy are not yet clear,” said Ames Grawert, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “But that is not the case when it comes to immigration. Under his tenure, more people are entering ICE’s system and fewer are leaving it. The Department of Homeland Security expects the daily population in immigration detention centers will increase by 25 percent. That will not only have significant impact on the lives of the individuals put behind bars, but on the nation’s criminal justice system as a whole.”  
Click here to read the full analysis, which also examines the administration’s changes to federal charging policy, grant funding, private prisons, drug enforcement, police department oversight, and more. And for additional information about the work of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, click here.

To schedule an interview or connect with a Brennan Center expert, contact Naren Daniel at 646–292–8381 or