Cost-Benefit Analysis of Justice Programs

Seeing the Forest and the Trees
Apr 29, 2014

Vera’s Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice (CBKB) project has two main audiences for its work. One is a technical audience, including legislative, policy, budget and fiscal analysts, researchers, evaluators, criminologists, and others in similar or related professions. For these readers, the forest is important, but the trees are more their thing. The other audience is interested in the big picture and the policy ramifications at hand, with readers who would usually prefer to leave the minutiae—or at least the calculations!—to someone else. This group includes elected officials and their staff; policymakers; corrections, community corrections, court, and law enforcement personnel; service providers; and journalists.   These two audiences are typically looking for different types of information regarding cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of justice programs and policies. When Vera convened a working group of respected policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to discuss cost-benefit methods, members of the group easily reached consensus about the need for two distinct resources: one for CBA practitioners to specifically address methodological issues, and another for a broader policy audience.   With input and guidance from the cost-benefit methods working group, CBKB recently published two white papers:

  • The first, Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs, was written for a technical audience. You’ll find it at
  • The second, Using Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Policymaking, helps readers know what to look for in a justice-related CBA, understand what cost-benefit results mean, and use those results to make better-informed decisions. The paper is online at

We are grateful to the methods working-group members, who contributed their time and ideas generously and diligently:

  • Mike Clark, chief economist, Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
  • Meredith Farrar-Owens, director, Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission
  • Lynn A. Karoly, senior economist, RAND Corporation
  • Mike Lawlor, under secretary, Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, Connecticut State Office of Policy and Management
  • Lee Ann Labecki, former director, Office of Research, Evaluation, and Strategic Policy Development, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency; now director of advisory services for KPMG
  • Kristin Misner, chief of staff, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, City of New York
  • John Roman, senior research associate, Urban Institute
  • Diane E. Shoop, manager, Outreach and Policy Support, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing
  • Ronald Villa, deputy chief operating officer, City of San Diego; formerly chief financial officer for the San Diego Police Department
  • David L. Weimer, professor of public affairs and political science, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin–Madison