Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs
Date:  03-21-2014

CBA underutilized in creating criminal justice policies
Vera Institute gathered some of the best minds together in 2012 to form the Cost-Benefits Methods Working Group (CBMWG). The group was charged with promoting the use of Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) in criminal justice policy making decisions. CBMWG helped to produce a white paper that Vera Institute published in March 2014.

The introduction to the white paper states:

“Cost-benefit analysis is an economic assessment tool that compares the costs and benefits of policies and programs for the time they produce their impacts. The hallmark of CBA is that costs and benefits are both expressed in monetary terms so that they can be directly compared. CBA supplies policymakers with information to weigh the pros and cons of alternative investments and enables them to identify options that are cost-effective and will have the greatest net social benefit. Because benefits are always expressed in dollar terms, CBA also enables decision makers to compare policies and programs that have different purposes and outcomes.

Although CBA is a well-established economic method, it has not been widely used in criminal justice. Promoting knowledge about CBA and addressing methodological issues specific to criminal justice can help increase the quantity and the quality of cost-benefit studies in the field. This report offers guidance on important conceptual and practical issues surrounding the use of CBA to inform justice policymaking.”

Five topics are discussed in the white paper:

  • Selecting perspectives to include in justice-related CBAs

  • Predicting and measuring the impacts of justice initiatives

  • Monetizing justice initiatives

  • Dealing with uncertainty

  • Making cost-benefit studies clearer and more accessible.

    Vera Institute warns that the white paper is technical, but adds, “This paper is intended for anyone who conducts, plans to conduct, or wants to learn how to conduct a cost-benefit study of a justice-related policy or program. Researchers, evaluators, analysts (including legislative, policy, budget, and fiscal analysts), criminologists, and those in similar or related professions may find the paper useful.”
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