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updated 11/23/2004 6:25:14 PM ET 2004-11-23T23:25:14

The Justice Department on Monday defended its record of prosecuting criminal civil rights cases after an independent study concluded the number of prosecutions had dropped significantly under President Bush.

The analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that the number of criminal civil rights defendants prosecuted had dropped from 159 in 1999 to 84 last year.

After initially declining comment on the study, the Justice Department said Monday the research was “incorrect” and the true number of defendants prosecuted last year was 151, actually higher than the 138 it said were prosecuted in 1999.

“This administration believes in and has vigorously enforced the criminal civil rights laws,” said Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland.

David Burnham, a co-author of the study at TRAC, said the research was based entirely on numbers provided under Freedom of Information Act requests by the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, a part of the Justice Department.

The same information, Burnham said, is used in the department’s reports to Congress and to investigative agencies such as the Government Accountability Office. It was backed up, he said, by similar downward trends in civil rights enforcement TRAC found in records kept by federal courts.

The Justice Department also said TRAC was mistaken in saying it had received about 12,000 civil rights complaints each year, including 2003. The number of complaints last year was about 9,500, officials said.

However, the Justice Department’s own Internet site on Monday continued to say it receives “approximately 12,000 criminal civil rights complaints annually.”

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