, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 291-323

Drug abuse, crime costs, and the economic benefits of treatment

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Several studies have examined the social consequences and costs of criminal activity. The most popular approach for estimating the costs of crime focuses on easily measurable factors such as incarceration costs, victims' out-of-pocket expenses, medical costs, and lost earnings. However, the intangible losses incurred by victims of crime have rarely been considered. These losses include pain and suffering, as well as loss of the enjoyment of living. Based on recent developments by Cohen and colleagues, we adopt a more comprehensive method for estimating the dollar value of avoided criminal activity, taking into account these intangible losses. We demonstrate the feasibility of this method by estimating the pre- and posttreatment costs of criminal activity for a sample of 2420 drug abusers. The estimated crime-related costs incurred during the period prior to treatment admission and the period after treatment discharge are significantly higher when calculated using the proposed method compared to methods that only consider tangible costs. Furthermore, a simple benefit-cost comparison of criminal activity outcomes indicates that drug abuse treatment has the potential to return net benefits to society through crime reduction. Although the treatment outcomes are not based on an experimental design, this study presents quantitative evidence that including victims' intangible losses can substantially raise the estimated dollar benefits of avoided criminal activity due to drug abuse interventions.

This paper was prepared while the authors were employed by Research Triangle Institute.