U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Adding Value to Justice Outcome Evaluations

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2010
15 pages
This paper illustrates the challenges of incorporating cost analyses into common criminal justice settings, using four examples followed by a discussion of overarching principles in deciding on methodology.
The four examples of cost analyses in criminal justice settings involve the cost-effectiveness of specific private security measures, juvenile delinquency prevention programs, police interventions to address crime in neighborhood crime "hot spots," and offender rehabilitation programs. Four basic principles for cost-effectiveness analysis of criminal justice policies are then outlined. First, economists should participate in evaluations. They should be involved in the evaluation from the outset, assisting in identifying outcomes and outcome measures. Their participation is needed in order to ensure that outcomes are measured in terms of cost factors. Second, measure proximal rather than distal outcomes. As a rule, the evaluation results that are measured should show a close causal link to the economic (cost factor) benefit. In a police intervention, for example, the evaluation may report increases in the number of apprehensions. Then the evaluator could report the number of additional apprehensions achieved per additional resources used, producing a cost-effectiveness analysis. Longer term evaluations would measure the outcomes in terms of the criminal sanctions applied after the arrests. Then the evaluator could measure crime savings due to short-term deterrence effects and long-term evaluations that measured the outcomes in terms of the criminal sanctions applied after the arrests, assessing their costs. Third, use logic models to inform evaluation design decisions. Logic models are diagrams that depict the causal chains through which program resources will produce program activities that in turn create program outputs and program outcomes. Fourth, use appropriate methods. More sophisticated analyses of social investments lead to greater understanding and the potential for better investment decisions. 24 references

Date Published: February 1, 2010