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Follow-The-Money Methods in Crime Control Policy

NCJ Number
R. T. Naylor
Date Published
December 1999
57 pages
This study examined money laundering and the role of asset forfeiture in crime control policies in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and other countries.
Crime control during the last 15 years has focused on the flows of criminal profits rather than on simply closing rackets that generate illegal income. The criminal and civil legal instruments focus on money laundering and asset seizure. The proceeds-of-crime approach has greatly expanded over the years. Supporters of these laws argue that they deter crime, prevent criminals from infiltrating and corrupting the legitimate economy, remove the capital essential for committing future crimes, and uphold the moral principle that no one should profit from their crimes. However, the justifications for these rationales are questionable. Reliable data on illegal activities and their proceeds are not available. Data from informants, cases, and sting operations are problematic. These problems apply both to the primary markets for illegal goods and services and also to the secondary market in laundering services. The seven major flaws in the proceeds-of-crime approach include the criminalization of matters formerly regarded as regulatory offenses, the elimination of the traditional right to financial privacy, erosion of due process, grossly disproportionate penalties, the threat to the integrity of the tax system, the skewing of law enforcement priorities in pernicious directions, and overt corruption of law enforcement. While Western countries have criminalized actions that generate illegal money and have criminalized its subsequent management, other countries have chosen to use the criminal law for individuals and financial policy initiatives for their wealth. The lack of proof of the effectiveness of the proceeds-of-crime approach in the West suggests the desirability of considering using the tax law instead of the current approaches. Alternative approaches would be more efficient and would avoid the current moral and human costs. Charts and reference notes