In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Costs of Crime and Justice

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Data Sources
  • Methodologies for Estimating Tangible Costs
  • National Estimates
  • Cost to Government
  • Cost to Offenders

Criminology Costs of Crime and Justice
Mark Cohen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0076


Estimating the costs of crime and justice is a useful exercise for many different reasons. Just knowing the aggregate costs of crime and justice helps us to understand and compare the impact of crime relative to other social ills. When combined with estimates of the effectiveness of programs, cost estimates of the criminal justice system, for example, can be used to determine the effectiveness of various policy options (“cost effectiveness” analysis). Finally, when estimates of the cost of crime itself are available, analysts can compare the costs of programs to their benefits (“cost-benefit” analysis). To do so requires both a clear understanding of whose “costs” are to be estimated (e.g., victims, taxpayers) as well as a determination of which methodology will be used to estimate those costs. This emerging field requires considerable judgment and methodologies because estimating costs are still being debated in the academic and policy literatures. This makes comparison of existing estimates perilous, as one can easily be comparing apples to oranges without a deep understanding of how each study was conducted. Nevertheless, the importance of estimating costs is becoming recognized by government policy analysts and researchers around the world.

General Overviews

There are only a few general texts on the costs of crime and justice. Gray 1979 provides both a theoretical understanding of how economists view the costs of crime as well as early estimates. However, more up-to-date and thorough treatments and literature reviews are contained in Cohen, et al. 1994, Cohen 2000, Cohen 2005, Czybanski 2008, and Cohen and Bowles 2010.

  • Cohen, Mark A. 2000. Measuring the costs and benefits of crime and justice. In Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. Edited by David Duffee, 263–316. Criminal Justice 4. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

    Comprehensive review of theory and methodologies for estimating both the costs of crime and the criminal justice system. While this is now somewhat dated and does not include the latest studies, it is a very useful and easy-to-read reference for undergraduate or graduate students.

  • Cohen, Mark A. 2005. The costs of crime and justice. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203313145

    A thorough review of economic theory and methodologies used to estimate the costs of crime and justice. Based primarily on the published work of Cohen and his colleagues in the United States. Suitable for all levels of study; no economics background is assumed.

  • Cohen, Mark A., and Roger Bowles. 2010. Estimating costs of crime. In Handbook of quantitative criminology. Part 2. Edited by Alex R. Piquero and David Weisburd, 143–162. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/9780-3877765078

    Up-to-date review of methodologies for estimating costs of crime. Targeted toward graduate students.

  • Cohen, Mark A., Ted R. Miller, and Shelli B. Rossman. 1994. The costs and consequences of violent behavior in the United States. In Understanding and preventing violence. Vol. 4, Consequences and control of violence. Edited by Albert J. Reiss Jr. and Jeffrey A. Roth, 67–166. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

    Detailed discussion and estimates of the costs to victims and to the criminal justice system of violent crimes in the United States.

  • Gray, Charles M., ed. 1979. The costs of crime. SAGE Criminal Justice System Annuals 12. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    Useful introduction to economists’ characterization of crime costs, including definitions of social costs, external costs, private costs, and more. Contains early estimates of the costs of crime in the United States, but these are now very outdated. Suitable for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students; economics background is helpful.

  • Czabanski, Jacek. 2008. Estimates of cost of crime: History, methodologies, and implications. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

    Perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of the subject, this book includes an exhaustive history of the costs of crime as well as detailed critiques of methodologies. One of the strengths of this volume is its legal framework, including a discussion of how cost estimates relate to theories of punishment and the criminal law. Suitable for upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and law students.

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