Updated Estimates of the Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime

Steve Aos, Washington State Inst. for Public Policy
Polly Phipps, Washington State Inst. for Public Policy
Robert Barnoski, Washington State Inst. for Public Policy

This paper will present the latest results and methodological improvements of an economic model developed to estimate the costs and benefits of programs that attempt to reduce crime. The model was developed for, and it is being used by, the Washington State Legislature to improve the way resources are allocated among crime prevention, intervention, and incapacitation policies and programs. For a wide range of programs--from prevention programs designed for infants or young children to correctional programs for juvenile and adult offenders--the paper examines whether a program's benefits are likely to outweigh its costs. The estimates are based on a common methodological approach--an approach that might be labeled an "economic meta-analysis" of what is known about the effectiveness of programs to reduce crime. This approach allows an "apples-to-apples" comparison of the economics of programs aimed at very different age groups. Similar to a financial analysis an investment advisor might use to study rates on return on mutual funds, bonds, real estate, or other diverse investments, the focus is on the comparative economic bottom line.

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Updated 05/20/2006