The Price of Justice: New National and State-Level Estimates of the Judicial and Legal Costs of Crime to Taxpayers

Abstract

Programs that prevent crime cost money. In order to efficiently allocate these limited funds, we need to know how much people benefit from crime prevention. While there are some comprehensive estimates of the cost of (or benefits of avoiding) crime to victims and to society at large, we have very limited crime-specific information on the legal system resources that would be freed up for other purposes across states. Using a Monte Carlo simulation approach to take into account uncertainty in the data, this study finds the national average costs to taxpayers for judicial/legal services per reported crime are likely around the following (in 2010 dollars): $22,000–$44,000 (homicide), $2000–$5000 (rape and sexual assault), $600–$1300 (robbery), $800–$2100 (aggravated assault), $200–$600 (burglary), $300–$600 (larceny/theft), and $200–$400 (motor vehicle theft). At a state-level, the costs of crime are 50 % to 70 % more or less than these national averages depending on the crime type and state. These estimates can be used to understand the level of resources spent per crime and the potential legal resources freed up for a change in reported crime rates; they are not a measure of waste or efficiency, but it is hoped this study contributes to this debate.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    As a proportion of all criminal, civil, domestic relations, juvenile, and traffic/violations cases.

  2. 2.

    Those interested in estimating the costs associated with policing drug offenses should consult Carey, Crumpton, Finigan, and Waller (2005); Caulkins and Kilmer (2013), and VCJR (2014).

  3. 3.

    A widely-cited, influential study in costs of criminal justice system (Cohen, Miller, & Rossman, 1994) uses the average time spent on cases over all Part I violent and property crimes and Part II drug-related arrests for each stage of the criminal justice system (e.g. investigation and arrest, screening and prefiling, sentencing, conditional release); thus time spent is not crime type-specific and the study does not provide cost to judicial/legal system specifically. The study does then apply the likelihood of a crime, by crime type, of reaching each main stage of the criminal justice system to generate the cost per Part I crime type for all criminal justice system services.

  4. 4.

    Assuming these workers only addressed the 4 cases. Marginal costs also capture the cost impacts to the other units of production (i.e. legal service costs for other cases).

  5. 5.

    Authors of the study offer this example to make the idea more concrete, “[s]uppose, for example, that nine out of ten court cases for robbery result in conviction and the other case results in dropped charges. The regression estimate of marginal court costs per robbery conviction includes the costs of the ten cases spread over the nine convictions in this example”(Aos et al., 2004: pg.40).

  6. 6.

    Sometimes only labor costs are considered variable. However, we cannot identify the contracted labor in the data, which may be significant and particularly important for a variable cost. Therefore, we include all labor costs and operating capital costs.

  7. 7.

    Based on time studies and actual case file audits, a weighted caseload system applies relative case “weights” measured in minutes to each filed case. It is a relative measure of how long a case type takes on average, which can include dismissed, settled, reopened, and lengthy trial cases.

  8. 8.

    Convicted refers to guilty pleas and trial. Not convicted includes cases dismissed or acquitted.

  9. 9.

    As determined by the U.S. Census Bureau and State Court Processing Statistics group of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. See Reaves (2013: pg. 32) for the methodology.

  10. 10.

    Using justice, public order, and public safety wages from the BLS (2012).

  11. 11.

    Results by state are available upon request of the authors.

  12. 12.

    If we calculated these figures based on victimizations instead of reported crimes, our cost estimates would be lower still since much victimization is not reported to the police.

References

  1. Adler, M. D., & Posner, E. A. (2000). “Cost-Benefit Analysis: Legal, Economic and Philosophical Perspectives.”

  2. Aos, S. (2015). What is the bottom line?: Role of the cost-of-crime literature. Criminology & Public Policy, 14(4), 633–638. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Aos, S., Lieb, R., Mayfield, J., Miller, M., Pennucci, A. (2004). “Benefits and Costs of Prevention and Early Intervention Programs for Youth: Technical Appendix.” Document No. 04-07-3901. Washington state: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

  4. Aos, S., Miller, M., & Drake, E. (2006). Evidence-based public policy options to reduce future prison construction, criminal justice costs, and crime rates. Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Beckett, K., & Harris, A. (2011). On cash and conviction: Monetary sanctions as misguided policy. Criminology & Public Policy, 10(3), 509–537. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9133.2011.00726.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. BJS. (2014). “Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts, 2010 - Final.” Bureau of Justice Statistics.

  7. BLS. (2012). “Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: 2012 Annual Averages, All Establishment Sizes.” Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  8. Bragg, S. (2011). Cost accounting fundamentals: Essential concepts and examples (2nd ed.). Centennial: AccountingTools.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bureau, U. S. Census. (2012). “Population Estimates for the U.S., Regions, and States by Selected Age Groups and Sex.” Washington, DC: Population Estimates Program, Population Division. http://www.census.gov/popest/data/intercensal/index.html.

  10. Burruss, G., & Kempf-Leonard, K. (2002). The questionable advantage of defense counsel in juvenile court*. Justice Quarterly, 19(1), 37–68. doi:10.1080/07418820200095161.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Carey, S., Crumpton, D., Finigan, M., & Waller, M. (2005). California drug courts: A methodology for determining costs and benefits. Phase II: Testing the methodology final report. Portland: NPC Research and Administrative Office of the Courts Judicial Council of California.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Caulkins, J., & Kilmer, B. (2013). Criminal justice costs of prohibiting marijuana in California. In Something’s in the air: Race and the legalization of marijuana (pp. 13–30). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Caulkins, J. P., Crawford, G., Reuter P. (1993). “Simulation of Adaptive Response: A Model of Drug Interdiction.” RP-193. RAND Corporation.

  14. Cohen, M. A., & Piquero, A. R. (2009). New evidence on the monetary value of saving a high risk youth. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 25(1), 25–49. doi:10.1007/s10940-008-9057-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cohen, M., Miller, T., & Rossman, S. (1994). The costs and consequences of violent behavior in the United States. In A. Reiss & J. Roth (Eds.), Understanding and preventing violence, volume 4: Consequences and control. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Cohen, M. A., Rust, R. T., Steen, S., & Tidd, S. T. (2004). Willingness-to-pay for crime control programs*. Criminology, 42(1), 89–110. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00514.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Deffenbacher, K. A. (2008). Estimating the impact of estimator variables on eyewitness identification: A fruitful marriage of practical problem solving and psychological theorizing. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22(6), 815–826. doi:10.1002/acp.1485.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Farole, D., & Langton, L. (2010). “County-Based and Local Public Defender Offices, 2007.” NCJ 231175. Department of Justice.

  19. FBI. (2011a). “Crime in the United States, 2010.” Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  20. FBI. (2011b). “Crime in the United States, 2010.” Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  21. FBI. (2013). “Crime in the United States, 2012.” Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  22. Fowles, R., & Nyström, S. (2012). “Utah Cost of Crime 2012 : Introduction to an Econometric Cost-Benefit Approach.” Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

  23. Gillespie, R. W. (1976). The production of court services: An analysis of scale effects and other factors. The Journal of Legal Studies, 5(2), 243–265. doi:10.2307/724083.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Heaton, P. (2010). Hidden in plain sight: What cost-of-crime research can tell us about investing in police, OP-279-ISEC. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Henrichson, C., & Delaney, R. (2012). “The Price of Prisons What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers.” Vera Institute of Justice.

  26. Hunt, P., & Miles, J. (2015). An introduction to Monte Carlo simulations in criminal psychology: Applications in evaluating biased estimators for recidivism. Journal of Criminal Psychology, 5(2), 149–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. IJC (2009). Indiana judicial weighted caseload study update: Final report. Indianapolis: Indiana Judicial Center.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Inter-Secretariat Working Group on National Accounts (1993). System of national accounts 1993. New York: Commission of the European Communities, International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations, and the World Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Kyckelhahn, T. (2015). “Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts 2012.” NCJ 248628. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

  30. LaFountain, R., Schauffler, R., Strickland, S., Holt, K., Lewis, K. (2015). “Court Statistics Project DataViewer.” Last updated 12 February 2015. Court Statistics Project.

  31. Lee, C, & Kleiman, M. (2011). “North Carolina Superior Court Judicial Workload Assessment: Final Report.”

  32. Malega, R., & Cohen, T. (2013). “State Court Organization, 2011.” NCJ 242850.

  33. Maltz, M. D., & Targonski, J. (2002). A note on the use of county-level UCR data. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 18(3), 297–318. doi:10.1023/A:1016060020848.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. McCollister, K. E., French, M. T., & Fang, H. (2010). The cost of crime to society: New crime-specific estimates for policy and program evaluation. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 108(1–2), 98–109. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.12.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Miles, J., & Shevlin, M. (2007). A time and a place for incremental fit indices. Personality and Individual Differences, 42(5), 869–874. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.09.022.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. NCSC (2007). A workload assessment study for the New Mexico trial court judiciary, New Mexico district attorney’s offices and new Mexico public defender department. Williamsburg: National Center for State Courts.

    Google Scholar 

  37. NCSC, & CSCA. (2016). “Court Statistics Project.” http://www.courtstatistics.org/.

  38. Nilsen, O. A., Raknerud, A., Rybalka, M., & Skjerpen, T. (2008). Lumpy investments, factor adjustments, and labour productivity. Oxford Economic Papers, 61(1), 104–127. doi:10.1093/oep/gpn026.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Ostrom, B., & Kleiman, M. (2010). “Minnesota Judicial Workload Assessment: Final Report.” National Center for State Courts.

  40. Pace, N, Ridgeway, G., Anderson, J., Fan, C.C., Horta, M. (2011). “Case Weights for Federal Defender Organizations.” RAND Corporation.

  41. Paternoster, R., & Brame, R. (2000). On the association among self-control, crime, and analogous behaviors. Criminology, 38(3), 971–982. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2000.tb00913.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Perry, S, & D Banks. (2011). “Prosecutors in State Courts, 2007 - Statistical Tables.” NCJ 234211. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

  43. Pew Center on the States. (2009). “One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections.” Washington, D.C.

  44. Reaves, B. (2013). “Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009 - Statistical Tables.” NCJ 243777. Department of Justice.

  45. Richter, M. K. (1966). Revealed preference theory. Econometrica, 34(3), 635–645. doi:10.2307/1909773.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Roman, J., & Farrell, G. (2002). Cost-benefit analysis for crime prevention: Opportunity costs, routine savings and crime externalities. Evaluation for Crime Prevention, Crime Prevention Studies, 14, 53–92.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Sabatier, P. A. (1986). Top-down and bottom-up approaches to implementation research: A critical analysis and suggested synthesis. Journal of Public Policy, 6(01), 21. doi:10.1017/S0143814X00003846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Samuelson, P. A. (1948). Consumption theory in terms of revealed preference. Economica, 15(60), 243–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Shanahan, M., & Ritter, A. (2014). Cost benefit analysis of two policy options for cannabis: status quo and legalisation. Edited by Alberico Catapano PLoS ONE, 9(4), e95569. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095569.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Shevlin, M., & Miles, J. N. V. (1998). Effects of sample size, model specification and factor loadings on the gfi in confirmatory factor analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(1), 85–90. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(98)00055-5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Trasande, L., Thomas Zoeller, R., Hass, U., Kortenkamp, A., Grandjean, P., Myers, J. P., DiGangi, J., et al. (2015). Estimating burden and disease costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100(4), 1245–1255. doi:10.1210/jc.2014-4324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. U.S. Department of Commerce. (2014). “Chapter 9: Government Consumption Expenditures and Gross Investment.” A Guide to the National Income and Product Accounts of the United States. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

  53. United Nations. (2016). “The System of National Accounts (SNA).” http://unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/sna.asp.

  54. VCJR. (2014). “Criminal Justice Consensus Cost-Benefit Working Group: Final Report.” Vermont Center for Justice Research.

  55. Young, W., & Singer, J. (2013). Bench presence: Toward a more complete model of federal district court productivity. Penn State Law Review, 118.

Download references

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (Award Number 2010-DJ-BX-1672). The authors would like to thank Samantha Cherney, Michael Robbins, and Anita Szafran for their research support. Authors would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments and suggestions that improved this paper. The findings and conclusions expressed in this paper are only those of the authors.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Priscillia Hunt.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(DOCX 68 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hunt, P., Anderson, J. & Saunders, J. The Price of Justice: New National and State-Level Estimates of the Judicial and Legal Costs of Crime to Taxpayers. Am J Crim Just 42, 231–254 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-016-9362-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Crime prevention
  • Legal system
  • Costs
  • Benefits