Federal prosecutors routinely use the promise of reduced prison time to reward prisoners who help federal agents build cases against other criminals, USA Today reports. Snitching has become so commonplace that in the past five years at least 48,895 federal convicts — one of every eight — had their prison sentences reduced in exchange for helping government investigators. The deals can chop a decade or more off of their sentences.
Every year for the past decade, 11 percent or more of the people convicted of a federal crime got a shorter sentence because they provided “substantial assistance” to investigators. 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. 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.