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Cost-benefit analysis and its application to crime prevention and criminal justice research

Technical and Background Paper no. 42

Kym Dossetor
ISBN 978 1 921532 76 4 ISSN 1836-2052
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, March 2011


Cost-benefit analysis is one of a number of ways of measuring the impact and effectiveness of crime prevention programs and has been used by governments in Australia and elsewhere to determine the utility of a given program or intervention. In essence, cost-benefit analysis is an analytical tool that compares the total costs of an intervention or program against its total expected benefits; it assists in answering the question ‘has the money been well spent?’.

Application of cost-benefit analysis within the criminal justice system and the crime prevention field is increasingly being embraced, although to date, most work has been undertaken in the United Kingdom and the United States. By comparison, relatively few cost-benefit analyses have been completed within Australia in these fields.

In this report, a description is provided of when and how such analyses of crime prevention programs have been used and a number of cost-benefit analyses are reviewed, using a tool developed to assess the merit of cost-benefit analysis. It is noteworthy that a number of the programs that have shown a reduction in the risk of crime have not been developed by criminologists or law enforcement personnel, nor has crime prevention been the primary objective. Rather, a crime prevention effect has occurred as part of a suite of positive outcomes.

For policymakers, cost-benefit analysis can be an important tool that informs policy decisions around program continuation, expansion or cessation. For practitioners, knowledge that programs are achieving their intended goals can assist program managers in future program development and may help to justify program expenditure.

This report improves our understanding of the application of cost-benefit analysis and provides ways in which to make this important analytical tool more responsive and effective, which will help to ensure sustained investment in quality crime justice and crime prevention programs.

Adam Tomison