The 'Cost of Crime' and Benefit-Cost Analysis of Criminal Justice Policy: Understanding and Improving Upon the State-of-the-Art
42 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2016
Date Written: August 31, 2016
The use of benefit-cost analyses by criminal justice researchers has slowly been increasing over the past 30 years. While still in its infancy, benefit-cost analyses of criminal justice policies have recently moved from the academic arena to actual use by policy makers. The growing use of benefit-cost analysis in crime policy tends to be lauded by economists; however, criminologists and legal scholars are less than unanimous in their views. A recent issue of Criminology and Public Policy on the “Role of the Cost-of-Crime Literature,” highlights this controversy. Two main themes can be distilled from critiques of the literature: first, the considerable uncertainty that exists in cost and benefit estimates; and second, the fact that important social costs are not being taken into account in current models. A related critique is that current methodologies to estimate the cost of crime are affected by income; bringing with it a concern that criminal justice policies based on a benefit-cost analysis will favor the rich. This research note addresses these broad questions about the role of benefit-cost analysis in the criminal justice policy arena and attempts to clear up some misunderstandings on the methodologies used to estimate the cost of crime. I also highlight some of the most important gaps in the literature for those interested in helping to improve the state-of-the-art in estimating the “cost of crime.” Perhaps equally important, I hope to demystify benefit-cost analysis and unmask it for what it really is – an important tool that can help policy makers systematically and transparently assess and compare options with the goal of making better policy decisions.
Keywords: cost of crime, benefit-cost analysis, criminal justice policy
JEL Classification: D61, K42, H40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation