Every year for the past decade, 11% or more of the people convicted of a federal crime got a shorter sentence because they provided "substantial assistance" to investigators, a USA TODAY examination of federal sentencing data shows. That figure almost certainly understates the extent to which defendants cooperate because some get breaks that aren't reflected in court records and others only pass on information that the government doesn't find useful.See related Grits posts:
In return, prisoners offer up names and addresses of drug dealers. They wear recording devices or let police listen to their phone calls. They introduce undercover agents to their contacts inside crime organizations.
That kind of help has become indispensable for law enforcement. The Drug Enforcement Administration told the Justice Department's inspector general in 2005 that it "could not effectively enforce the controlled-substances laws of the United States" without its confidential sources.
Cooperation is especially common when drugs are involved. Nationwide, at least a quarter of the people sent to federal prison in drug-trafficking cases over the past five years successfully traded information for a shorter sentence
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