Any number of investments can promote public safety, whether in law enforcement, corrections, community corrections—or even programs such as early childhood education. The critical question, though, is which choices produce the greatest benefits.
Increasingly, decision makers are turning to cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to help weigh their options. But justice-related cost-benefit studies can be complicated, technical, and hard to understand, making it easy for people to misinterpret their findings and overlook critical information that can aid their decisions.
As part of its Research for the Real World seminar series, the National Institute of Justice will host the event “Building Trust Inside and Out: The Challenge of Legitimacy Facing Police Leaders,” featuring Professor Dennis Rosenbaum, director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The nongovernmental organization New Economy, in partnership with the UK government, recently released a database of more than 600 cost estimates. This unit cost database—available at the Centre for Social Impact Bonds—covers crime, education and skills, employment and economy, fire, health, housing, and social services. Most are national costs derived from government reports and academic studies.
Dr. Craig D. Uchida is the president of Justice & Security Strategies, Inc., where he oversees contracts and grants with cities, counties, criminal justice agencies, foundations, and foreign nations. He is also a member of the Law Enforcement Forecasting Group (LEFG), a program of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA.) Last year, LEFG asked Vera’s Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank to develop the paper Putting a Value on Crime Analysts: Considerations for Law Enforcement Executives.
Dr. Craig D. Uchida is the president of Justice & Security Strategies, Inc., where he oversees contracts and grants with cities, counties, criminal justice agencies, foundations, and foreign nations. He is also a member of the Law Enforcement Forecasting Group (LEFG), a program of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Last year, LEFG asked CBKB to develop the paper Putting a Value on Crime Analysts: Considerations for Law Enforcement Executives.
The Adult Drug Court Research-to-Practice Initiative (R2P)—a project of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Justice Programs Office of the School of Public Affairs at American University—recently conducted the webinar “Drug Court Cost-Efficiency Analysis: Methods and Findings.”
The online panel discussion, moderated by Fred L. Cheesman II, principal court research consultant at NCSC, covers how to conduct drug court cost-efficiency analysis—including guidance on marginal costs, transactional costs, and monetizing drug-court outcomes—as well as what the current cost-effectiveness research tells us about adult drug courts.
Like other government agencies, police departments are under great pressure to get the biggest return possible when investing taxpayers’ dollars on justice programs and policies. Leaders of the Law Enforcement Forecasting Group of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance asked staff from CBKB to develop this document, to help police departments address questions about spending on crime analysts—and about justifying that spending.
Investing in justice-system programs and policies involves allocating resources that would otherwise be put to some alternative use. So distinguishing the cost of an initiative or intervention from “business as usual” is essential when calculating program costs for a cost-benefit analysis.
Our latest publication, Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs, has a section about program costs.
Last month, the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA) hosted the webinar “A State Perspective on Implementing Results First.” The webinar highlighted the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative’s work in implementing an innovative cost-benefit analysis (CBA) approach that helps jurisdictions invest in effective criminal justice policies and programs.
Our new white paper, Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs, recommends a few ways to make cost-benefit studies clearer and more accessible. To paraphrase the Golden Rule, you should provide as much documentation for others as you would want them to provide you:
- Be explicit about which costs and benefits the analysis includes.
Last week we announced the release of a new CBKB white paper, Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs. Analysts, researchers, analysts, and criminologists will find useful information about cost-benefit analysis (CBA) methods, evaluation techniques, and justice-specific applications of this technique.
Even if you don’t plan to dive into the details, take a look at these six principles that serve as the paper’s foundation:
- Cost-benefit analysis is a decision tool, not a decision rule.
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 Bureau of Justice Assistance’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) is featuring CBKB in its TTA Spotlight, which highlights training and technical assistance “engagements that have demonstrated success in achieving meaningful impact in the criminal justice system.”
We’re grateful to NTTAC for this acknowledgement of our work. Read the TTA Spotlight on CBKB’s training and technical assistance.
Finding salary information once meant poring over budget reports. But now it’s easier to find these numbers online, thanks to websites that promote open data and government transparency.
One good example, See Through NY, provides searchable budget information for New York State agencies and a salary database for all state and many municipal employees.
This post was updated on March 10, 2014, to reflect changes in the SBCA conference program.
The Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis (SBCA) has published a preliminary program for its sixth annual conference and meeting March 13 and 14 at the George Washington University Marvin Center in Washington, DC. (Note: The SBCA published its final program on March 7.)
On Thursday, March 13, a panel will focus on analysis of the justice system, including a presentation by Carl Matthies, a senior policy analyst with the Vera Institute of Justice’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, and author of Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis of Justice Programs, who will discuss the new white paper.
Which CBKB blog posts from this year were most widely read? The following list spells them out, with one caveat: We excluded guest blog posts, which we highlighted last week.
So here are the Top Five posts from 2013:
It still surprises us: We ask busy, talented people if they’ll write for the CBKB blog—and most of them say yes. We’re grateful to the authors of this year’s guest blog posts, who covered a lot of ground, from policy reform in Alaska to social impact bonds on Rikers Island; from court performance measures to effective corrections programming and youth crime-prevention strategies.
How do you scale evidence-based programs? A look at OJJDP’s Juvenile Justice Reform and Reinvestment Initiative
Shay Bilchik is director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. Kristen Kracke is a social science specialist at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
High recidivism rates in the juvenile justice system have long been viewed as intractable.
Tom Roy is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). We recently interviewed Grant Duwe, the agency’s director of research, about how the DOC is using cost-benefit analysis (CBA). We corresponded with Commissioner Roy to expand on the discussion.
Can you tell us how you see CBA as helpful to your work and your staff’s work? What cost-benefit studies about criminal justice have you found especially valuable—and how so?
Last week, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ State Health Care Spending Project published a new report, Managing Prison Health Care Spending. The paper discusses practices that have important cost-benefit implications, such as these:
- Telehealth. By using electronic communications and information technology in clinical care, this approach doesn’t just control costs, but in some states delivers “better, cheaper care” to inmates.