Do the benefits of drug courts outweigh the costs?

By , June 6, 2011

Probably not, says a recent report by the District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute. A Bayesian Meta-Analysis of Drug Court Cost-Effectiveness finds that:

On average, drug courts cost $5,000 more per participant than is yielded in benefits, and there is only a 14 percent chance that the benefits will exceed the costs. …There is a 1 percent chance that the benefits could be as high as $23,000 per participant, which across 150 participants is an aggregate social gain of $3.4 million.

The study simulates the costs and benefits of an average drug court using Bayesian analysis, a statistical technique that, the authors note, “provides more flexibility to estimate complicated models than any alternative” and “better describes true reality.” Rather than yielding a point estimate like a cost-benefit ratio, Bayesian analysis measures the likelihood that the benefits of a policy or program will outweigh the costs.

For more information about Bayesian analysis and its use in CBA, read the report, and watch the accompanying presentations, Meta-Analytic Cost-Benefit Estimates and A Bayesian, Meta Cost-Benefit Model.

For general information on Bayesian statistics, see:

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