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Measuring the Costs and Benefits of Crime and Justice

NCJ Number
Date Published
53 pages
This chapter reviews state-of-the-art techniques for estimating the costs and benefits of criminal justice and prevention programs.

Cost-effectiveness and benefit-cost analyses are tools that have been used by public policy analysts for years. Programs as diverse as environmental and land-use regulations, welfare benefits, job training programs, and immunization policies have all been analyzed in this manner. Since the early 1980's, Federal regulatory agencies have been required to conduct benefit-costs analyses on major regulatory initiatives. Despite their widespread use, cost-effectiveness and benefit-cost analyses have not been staples of the criminal justice policy analyst's tool kit. This is rapidly changing in response to both increasing public demand for accountability of government agencies and the availability of new data and analysis techniques for identifying the costs of crime. Although official government estimates of the cost of street crime have been available for many years, recent studies have attempted to go beyond government statistics by incorporating the monetary value of pain, suffering, and lost quality of life. Many of these studies use methodologies that are used by environmental, health, and safety economists. Because these methodologies are new to the criminal justice research community, considerable attention is given to understanding their underlying assumptions, limitations, and alternatives. Cost-benefit analysis has arrived in the criminal justice policy arena, and it will not go away. Forcing analysts to quantify expected costs and benefits brings new insight to the merits of alternative programs and will undoubtedly change the focus of the debate in many criminal justice program areas. Whereas one could previously claim that "prevention is cheaper than prison" or "three strikes and you're out pays for itself," the benefit-cost framework allows decision makers to examine these claims more carefully and begin to make more rational, scientifically based judgments. 6 exhibits, 21 notes, and 83 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000