Michael Higgins, a reporter
with the Journal of the American Bar Association, became intrigued
by strong statistical evidence suggesting that the federal government
often failed the American people when it came to delivering equal
protection under the law. Some of the evidence involved matters
that obviously could be explained by variations in local conditions;
it is hardly surprising that a significant proportion of all immigration
cases are brought in federal districts along the southwest border.
But Higgins discovered there were situations that seemed to defy
common sense. The data showed, for example, that from 1993 through
1997, 51 percent of the 39,706 individuals convicted in federal
court of matters that the Justice Department categorized as white
collar crime went to prison. But when he examined the records
of the 90 federal districts, he found at one end of the scale
there were five where 70% or more of the convicted white collar
criminals were sent to prison while at the other end there were
five where 33% or fewer went to prison. The high end districts
included Rhode Island (Providence) and Iowa South(Des Moines).
Two at the low end were Northern California (San Francisco) and
New Jersey (Newark). Higgins set to work and the result of his
extensive reporting was the cover story for the ABA's November
1999 Journal, "Sizing Up Sentences."