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The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime. Version 4.0

NCJ Number
Date Published
180 pages

This report describes the bottom-line economics of programs aimed at reducing crime; it provides a snapshot of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s cost-benefit findings, analyzing program evaluations produced over the 25 years leading up to May 2001.


The authors of this report systematically analyzed program evaluations of prevention programs and correctional interventions in North America over the course of 25 years. The authors examined prevention programs designed for young children as well as correctional interventions for juvenile and adult offenders. The authors independently determined whether program benefits, as measured by the value to taxpayers and crime victims from a program’s expected effect on crime, were likely to outweigh costs. In this report, the authors compare the economics of different types of programs designed for widely varying age groups. Their overall conclusion is that in the two decades leading up to 2001, research on what works and what does not, had sufficiently developed to enable policy makers to improve public resource allocation. The report provides an overview of the various programs and program types that the authors examined, reviews the available options, and provides detailed discussion of the authors' findings. The five general research findings are: the largest and most consistent economic returns are for certain programs designed for juvenile offenders; some programs demonstrated some success in reducing the criminality of participants but the cost of running those programs was greater than any savings realized; the best programs could be expected to deliver 20 to 30 percent reductions in recidivism or crime rates for the intended populations; and the authors recommend that a “portfolio approach” be developed to achieve a reasonable balance between near-term and long-term resources, and between research-proven strategies and those that are promising but require research and development.

Date Published: January 1, 2001