Few states and counties know what return on investment they are getting for expenditures on their criminal and juvenile justice systems. Agencies spend money and make assumptions about the financial and substantive effects of policy and program choices without much solid information on the real costs incurred or benefits accrued. Yet this information is highly relevant to the decisions policymakers need to make, particularly in a challenging fiscal climate.
Vera’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit provides policymakers with clear, accessible information on the economic pros and cons associated with criminal and juvenile justice investments, so that they can identify effective, affordable interventions for their jurisdictions and allocate resources accordingly. We perform cost-benefit analyses and other cost-related studies, support jurisdictions conducting their own studies, and carry out research to advance the knowledge and application of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) in the justice system. We also provide technical assistance to help jurisdictions integrate CBA and other types of economic analysis in their justice planning and policymaking.
The Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit draws upon the experience of an advisory board of national experts and practitioners in criminal justice and economics.
For more information on the Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, please contact Chris Henrichson, senior policy analyst.
The Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH) studied the impact of 2009 reforms to New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws that eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of a range of felony drug charges and expanded eligibility for diversion to treatment. Researchers compared cases pre and post reform to assess changes in the use of jail and prison, rates of diversion to treatment, racial disparities in sentencing, recidivism, and cost.
This study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, will explore whether providing incarcerated people with access to video visitation improves the nature and frequency of prisoners’ contact with their families and other people who support them. It will also explore if these contacts improve their compliance with custodial rules and outcomes after their release from prison.
In 2012, the New York City Mayor’s Office launched the nation’s first social impact bond—an innovative return-for-success initiative in which private funding is used to finance public services—to fund the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) program, which provides Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) services to adolescents at Rikers Island. Under this model, the funder—the global investment banking, securities, and investment management firm Goldman Sachs—will receive a return on its investment if the number of recidivism bed days—the number of days that people are held in jail custody following their initial release—are reduced by at least 10 percent.
Local jails exist in nearly every town and city in America. While rarely on the radar of most Americans, they are the front door to the formal criminal justice system in a country that holds more people in custody than any other on the planet. Their impact is both far-reaching and profound: in the course of a typical year, there are nearly 12 million jail admissions—almost 20 times the number of annual admissions to state and federal prisons—at great cost to the people involved, their families and communities, and society at large. Through research, publications, and technical assistance to local jurisdictions, Vera aims to foster public debate and action that reduces jail incarceration, ameloriates its negative consequences, and promotes safe, healthy communities.
Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program launched a project to study the role of indigent defense, commonly known as public defense, for defendants with mental health disorders (MHD) in January 2013. With support from the National Institute of Justice, this work aims to 1) enhance understanding of the challenges faced by indigent defenders and their clients with MHD; 2) improve outcomes for defendants with MHD; and 3) inform the development of guidelines and training materials for defense attorneys that address common challenges to providing indigent defense for people with MHD.
Steve Aos is the director of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the nonpartisan research arm of the Washington State legislature. He has more than 35 years of experience in conducting cost-benefit analyses and in communicating the results to policymakers in a wide range of public policy areas, as well as in the private sector. His current work focuses on identifying and evaluating the costs and benefits of programs and policies that reduce crime, improve K-12 educational outcomes, reduce child abuse and neglect, improve mental health, and reduce substance abuse and tobacco use. He also has many years of experience in energy economics and regulatory policy.
|Mark H. Bergstrom
Mark H. Bergstrom has been the executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing since 1998. In addition to providing the overall management of the Commission, he also serves as the commission’s liaison with the General Assembly, the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts, the Governor’s Office, other state and local agencies, and with the various administrative units of The Pennsylvania State University, where the Commission is based. In his prior positions with the Commission, he was responsible for incorporating intermediate punishments into the sentencing guidelines, conducting training seminars on sentencing-related issues, and assisting counties with the development and implementation of intermediate punishment plans and programs.
|Mark A. Cohen
Mark A. Cohen is professor of management and law at Vanderbilt University. Previously, he served as a staff economist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Sentencing Commission and as vice president for research at Resources for the Future. He is often called upon by government and research organizations to serve in advisory roles providing his expertise on the economics of crime and the cost of crime to society. He served for two terms as chairman of the American Statistical Association’s Committee on Law and Justice. He has received several research grants from the National Institute of Justice to assess the costs and impact of crime on society. He has lectured around the world on the cost of crime, including consultations and invited talks with governmental organizations in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Netherlands, Poland, Finland, and elsewhere in the EU.
Philip J. Cook
Jens Ludwig is director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Faculty Research Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and co-director of the NBER’s working group on the Economics of Crime. He conducts empirical research in law and economics and social policy, with a focus on urban poverty, education, crime, and housing. He is the co-author with Duke University professor Philip J. Cook of Gun Violence: The Real Costs (Oxford University Press 2000) and co-editor with Cook of Evaluating Gun Policy (Brookings Institution Press 2003). Before coming to the University of Chicago, he was a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. In 2006, he received the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management’s David N. Kershaw Prize for distinguished contributions to public policy by the age of 40.