Cost-benefit analysis

Building the will and the way
Tina Chiu
Apr 26, 2013

The title of a new publication from Vera’s Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice (CBKB) is admittedly a mouthful: Building Cost-Benefit Analysis Capacity in Criminal Justice: Notes from a Roundtable Discussion. It also includes a dreaded word: capacity. “Capacity” is described as a vague, quasi-occult term in its entry in the Communications Network’s Jargon Finder, and “capacity-building” sits at the top of an unofficial nonprofit jargon top 10 list

So what are we talking about when we talk about capacity, particularly in the context of cost-benefit analysis in criminal justice? Why did CBKB hold a roundtable discussion on it, and why does the CBKB staff provide targeted technical assistance to help jurisdictions build it?
The process of using information from cost-benefit studies consistently to make better-informed decisions doesn’t happen overnight. There may be a way, but not the will; CBAs may yield compelling and helpful insights, but only if policymakers and decision makers are willing and able to make use of such information. Or the opposite may be true: there may be a high demand for cost-benefit studies on particular policy issues, but high-quality or relevant CBAs don’t exist, which is often the case for criminal and juvenile justice questions.
By “capacity,” we mean the ability to conduct good cost-benefit studies and to demand CBA-related information for planning and policymaking. How a jurisdiction—and the criminal justice field generally—can reach this level of skill and sustained interest in CBA was the focus of the roundtable.
The resulting publication captures only a sliver of what the discussion covered but it contains concrete suggestions about the kind of organizations that can build and house CBA expertise; the characteristics of staff who can do this work and how to find them; and multiple ways to integrate CBA information into decision-making processes. 
Will you get overnight results if you follow these recommendations and advice? Unfortunately, no. But the information from the roundtable can set you and your jurisdiction on a clearer path to establishing both the will and the way to using CBA in criminal justice.
This post also appears on the blog of the Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice, which is a project of the Vera Institute of Justice.