Costs and Benefits of Preventing Crime

Costs and Benefits of Preventing Crime

Costs and Benefits of Preventing Crime

Costs and Benefits of Preventing Crime


What are the cost savings from preventing a typical burglary, robbery, assault, or even a criminal career? Who benefits from these savings? How often do the benefits from preventing crime or criminal behavior exceed the resources spent on preventing or controlling crime? Is it more cost-effective to invest in early childhood programs or juvenile boot camps to reduce criminal offending? These are some of the important questions that face policymakers in crime and justice today. Answering them is no easy task. Nevertheless, it is important to provide answers in order to ensure that the dollars devoted to crime reduction are spent as efficiently as possible. The principle aim of Costs and Benefits of Preventing Crime is to report on and assess the present state of knowledge on the monetary costs and benefits of crime prevention programs. Remarkably, this crucial topic has rarely been studied up to the present time. This book examines key methodological issues, reports on the most up-to-date research findings, discusses international policy perspectives, and presents an agenda for future research and policy development on the economic analysis of crime prevention. Throughout, it addresses the important question of how governments should be allocating scarce resources to make crime prevention policy and practice more effective and to produce the greatest economic benefits to society. The book brings together research and perspectives from across North America, Europe, and Australia.


Crime is costly not just for the immediate victims, but for all of us. the prices of consumer goods are inflated by shoplifting, employee theft, embezzlement, antitrust violations, and extortion of legitimate businesses by organized crime. Our tax bills reflect the pervasive crimes of incometax evasion and government program fraud, as well as the necessity of supporting law-enforcement and criminal justice systems. the fear of predatory crime adds to our anxieties about our children while motivating an expensive and sometimes isolating quest for safety. in short, crime is a tax on our standard of living, imposing both tangible and intangible costs.

This perspective has not been much recognized or developed in the crime-control literature. As far back as 1967 the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice hazarded an estimate of the total dollar cost of crime (3 percent of the gross national product), and there have been occasional efforts to place a monetary value on the crime-prevention benefits of specific programs. Far more common, however, have been program evaluations that assess effects on criminal behavior but stop short of estimating the associated costs and benefits. As a result we know more about what works than about what's worthwhile. Until we incorporate a more systematic approach to the "value" aspect of "evaluation," the policy implications will remain unclear.

A good beginning is to recognize that public programs to prevent crime absorb scarce resources that have alternative uses. If you were crime-control czar and the taxpayers handed you an extra $1 billion, how should you spend it? More generally, could you make a good case for spending that extra $1 billion on crime prevention, rather than environmental cleanup or debt reduction or tax relief? the answer to the first question requires cost-effectiveness analysis, whereas the second requires a cost-benefit analysis.

This sort of analysis is made difficult, even in principle, by the fact that much of the benefit of crime reduction is not measured in any market transaction or accounting entry, but rather must be imputed. What, for example, is the value of rapes or gunshot wounds that are forestalled through crime-prevention efforts? and the evaluation problem is not . . .

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