Transnational Crime: A New Health Threat for Corrections. (NIJ Update)

By O'Rourke, Marvene | Corrections Today, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Transnational Crime: A New Health Threat for Corrections. (NIJ Update)


O'Rourke, Marvene, Corrections Today


Author's Note: Findings and conclusions of the research reported here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the US. Department of Justice.

During the past decade, transnational crime has become the norm, not the exception -- 21st century crime operates in a global framework. Offenders move from city to city and continent to continent with no regard for national boundaries.

At the end of 2000, officials in the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that their work involving international criminal activities increased to at least 50 percent that year. Among the 18 categories of transnational crime, transporting humans illegally across national boundaries has increased at alarming rates and raises critical concerns. In only one category, the Department of State estimated in 1999 that 50,000 women and children are trafficked annually to the United States as sex workers and another 20,000 people, including women and children, are trafficked for other forms of indentured labor, according to International Trafficking in Women to the United States. U.S. immigration and labor officials fear that the problem is growing. There is particular concern about how this trend affects health in the United States.

The criminal justice research community in the United States is attempting to determine the nature and magnitude of transnational crime. More important, it is trying to quantify the effects of such crime in the United States because it is unknown how big the problem is or the extent of its impact. There is a clear need for research data and solid information to inform practitioners and policy-makers.

Studies and Projects

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) currently is funding several studies that hopefully will provide a glimpse into transnational crime and its impact on the United States. Results from a new study, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the United States, Mexico and Canada, will be published early this year and will provide an indication of the prevalence and causes of child sexual exploitation, as well as operation modes of the adult criminal networks. The Social Organization of Human Trafficking, a collaborative study with researchers in Fuzhou, China, examines the structure and operation of Chinese human smuggling organizations and will be completed this year. The third NIJ study, Trafficking in Women From Ukraine, is a qualitative descriptive analysis conducted by a team of U.S. and Ukrainian researchers on the nature and extent of trafficking in women from Ukraine.

NIJ also is sponsoring a number of research projects that investigate the service needs of trafficked people and survey the domestic impact of transnational crime among law enforcement practitioners. One project will analyze trafficking cases in Chicago, South Florida and Washington, D.C., to determine the elements of successfully prosecuted cases and, by the same token, the elements present when offenders are not convicted. These studies began in January.

Health Risks

Offenders and victims of trafficking across national boundaries bring a variety of health problems, including contagious diseases. This has obvious potential consequences for those in the receiving countries, but especially for corrections officials and inmates in those countries. Thus, transnational crime's impact on health in the general population and, more specifically, in correctional settings, is an emerging area of concern.

In early 2000, health officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association reported that immigrants accounted for nearly 42 percent of the tuberculosis (TB) cases reported nationwide, although this group represents only 10 percent of the total population, according to Deborah Shelton of American Medical News. That percentage is even higher in some locations. For example, in Northern Virginia, foreign-born residents accounted for 92 percent of the new TB cases in 2000, according to William Branigan of The Washington Post. …

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