New from CBKB: “Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs”

By , March 6, 2014

The demand for cost-benefit analyses (CBAs) of justice programs keeps growing, but the supply of high-quality studies has not kept pace. Analysts deal with a number of challenges, from acquiring good data to balancing the precision and accuracy of studies with their policy relevance.

CBKB’s new white paper, Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs, was developed to help guide analysts through the methodological challenges of conducting justice-related CBAs, such as:

  • Selecting perspectives to include in justice-related CBAs;
  • Predicting and measuring the impacts of justice programs and policies;
  • Monetizing (placing dollar values on) those initiatives;
  • Dealing with uncertainty; and
  • Making cost-benefit studies clearer and more accessible.

The paper also includes a set of principles for conducting justice-related CBAs, a review of various evaluation methods, descriptions of the methods used to measure victim costs, several justice-specific examples and illustrations, a glossary, and references.

This paper is intended for anyone who conducts, plans to conduct, or wants to learn how to conduct cost-benefit studies of justice-related policies or programs. This includes researchers; evaluators; legislative, policy, budget, and fiscal analysts; criminologists; and those in similar or related professions. The paper gives advice and recommendations, and provides information readers may use to weigh methodological options, given that not all issues pertaining to CBA in criminal justice have clear right or wrong answers.

CBKB is grateful for the assistance of our Cost-Benefit Methods Working Group in helping us shape this paper (and a forthcoming companion paper for policymakers) and advance the use of rigorous CBA in justice policy decisions. These were the working-group members:

  • Mike Clark, chief economist, Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
  • Meredith Farrar-Owens, director, Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission
  • Lynn A. Karoly, senior economist, RAND Corporation
  • Mike Lawlor, under secretary, Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, Connecticut State Office of Policy and Management
  • Lee Ann Labecki, former director, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Strategic Policy Development, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency; now director of advisory services for KPMG
  • Kristin Misner, chief of staff, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, City of New York
  • John Roman, senior research associate, Urban Institute
  • Diane E. Shoop, manager, Outreach and Policy Support, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing
  • Ronald Villa, deputy chief operating officer, City of San Diego; formerly chief financial officer for the San Diego Police Department
  • David L. Weimer, professor of public affairs and political science, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Throughout March we’ll feature information from the new white paper on the blog. We encourage you to comment below or via Twitter or Facebook, or to e-mail us at We look forward to hearing how you use this paper.

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