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Benefit-Cost Analysis of Supermax Prisons: Critical Steps and Considerations

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2004
51 pages
This report presents an introduction to benefit-cost analysis and illustrates the process through a benefit-cost analysis of super-maximum security prisons.
Super-maximum security prisons were rare just 20 years ago but today over two-thirds of States house over 20,000 inmates in “supermax” correctional facilities. Despite the proliferation of supermax prisons and the high costs associated with them, surprisingly little analysis has focused on the benefits versus the costs of supermax prisons. A benefit-cost analysis (BCA) of supermax prisons is presented here to illustrate the analytic methodology of BCA for policymakers and corrections officials who may seek to use this economic analysis tool to inform policy decisionmaking. Practical applications of BCA are presented in the first section followed by an overview of its logic of BCA in the second section. Section 3 outlines the specific steps of BCA, which involve identifying a research question, identifying the benefits and costs for the particular project, and assigning value to the benefits and costs. A BCA of supermax prisons is presented in the fourth section, which walks the reader through all the steps of the analysis technique. The conclusion in section 5 highlights the importance of using complete and reliable data to conduct BCAs. Tables, figures, endnotes, references

Date Published: August 1, 2004