U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Criminal Justice Reforms

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 272 Dated: September 2013 Pages: 31-38
Date Published
July 2013
8 pages
Publication Series
This article identifies considerations that are important when analyzing the costs and benefits of reforms being considered for implementation, and an example of the issues involved is drawn from a recent NIJ-funded Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation.
Three main recommendations are offered regarding the cost-benefit analysis of a projected reform intervention. First, include a wide range of potential costs and benefits, including those related to crime, drug use, education, employment, family functioning, and mental health. Second, calculate in dollar amounts the difference or "net benefit" between drug court participants and a comparison group of probationers across a variety of outcomes. Third, improve the accuracy of cost and benefit estimates while showing how variable those estimates really are. These issues are examined in NIJ's Multisite Adult Drug Court Evaluation (MADCE). The impact evaluation found that adult drug courts significantly reduce participants' drug use and criminal offending during and after program participation. The cost-benefit analysis (CBA) estimated program costs with a "bottoms-up" approach. In this approach, researchers first identify the unit costs for the service (e.g., the cost of a counseling session) and then multiply it by the number of units an individual receives; the result is a person's individual costs. All individual costs are summed to arrive at the total cost. As benefits criminal justice reforms can lead to reduction in criminal offending and improvements in other outcomes. This results in cost reductions associated with investigating, arresting, and supervising offenders (sometimes recoverable), as well as reduction in harm to victims (rarely recoverable). In using CBA to improve public policy, stakeholders should consider expanding the range of included benefits, which provides more useful information than studies that focus only on returns on investment. 2 tables, 5 notes, and a listing of 3 resources

Date Published: July 1, 2013