The number of federal drug prosecutions this year is on track to drop by more than 14 percent, according to a Syracuse University research center.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2012, new prosecutions referred by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency totaled 11,782. At that pace, year-end totals would be 14.4 percent lower than during fiscal year 2011, according to a report issued Monday by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The 2012 fiscal year ran from October 1, 2011, through September 30, 2012.

The 2012 estimate represents a decline of 16.3 percent compared with five years ago and 14.8 percent compared with 10 years ago.

The reason for the decline is unclear. The DEA’s budget for 2012 is slightly higher at $2.04 billion, compared with $2.01 billion in 2011, and the number of positions and agents has remained basically unchanged. A spokesman for the DEA said that he was unaware of any decline in the number of prosecutions. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said, through a spokesman, that it had no explanation. TRAC co-director David Burnham said that he could not pinpoint a specific reason for the decline.

One reason may be a change in philosophy, said Paul Callan, a criminal defense attorney in New York and former prosecutor in the Kings County, N.Y., District Attorney’s Office. “There’s a shift toward focusing prosecutions on violent crimes and providing rehabilitation for drug offenders,” he said.

New Mexico saw the highest rate of prosecutions per capita through July, with 217 per one million people, totaling 364 prosecutions. The state also ranked first a year ago and five years ago. The other top five jurisdictions during 2012 were the Western District of Texas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, North Dakota and Kansas.

The federal jurisdiction recording the biggest projected drop in the rate of prosecutions was the Southern District of Texas at 25.3 percent.

TRAC’s information reflects the number of defendants charged with offenses referred by the DEA and is based on case-by-case information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. TRAC describes its mission as providing nonpartisan information about federal enforcement, staffing and spending.

Leigh Jones is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York. •