The project’s training activities included the development of a CBA and Justice Policy Toolkit, seven publications—that cover a range of topics such as developing an institutional capacity for CBAusing CBA to inform public safety technology investments, and calculating justice-system marginal costs—and ten webinars targeted to both policymakers and researchers. Vera staff also made presentations at sixteen national conferences and led CBA workshops for the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Correctional Management Institute of Texas.

In 2012 and 2013, Vera provided on-site CBA capacity building technical assistance to six municipal, county, and state government agencies selected through a competitive application process: The Allegheny County Criminal Justice Advisory Board, in Pennsylvania; the Denver Crime Prevention and Control Commission; the Kent Police Department, in Washington; the New Mexico Department of Public Safety; the Washington State Department of Corrections; and the York County Criminal Justice Advisory Board, in Pennsylvania. A synopsis of this assistance is provided in the Cost-Benefit Analysis and Justice Policy Toolkit.

How is CBA conducted?

Cost-benefit analysis compares an investment’s costs and benefits in the long run. The hallmark of CBA is that costs and benefits are expressed in monetary terms so that they can be directly compared. Because the investment’s effects are expressed in dollars, CBA enables decision-makers to compare policies and programs that have different purposes and outcomes. To produce these results, an analyst must complete the following steps:

  1. Identify the investment’s potential impacts 
  2. Quantify the investment’s impacts 
  3. Determine marginal costs 
  4. Calculate costs, benefits, and net present value 
  5. Test the assumptions, and 
  6. Report the results.

For complete instructions on conducting a CBA, please see the Cost-Benefit Analysis and Justice Policy Toolkit.

What to Look For in a CBA Report

Making sense of the growing body of criminal justice CBAs presents its own set of challenges for readers new to this methodology. How do you know whether a CBA is sound? To help you assess a study’s strengths and weaknesses, keep in mind 10 important questions as you review a cost-benefit report:

  1. Do the authors have a bias that may affect the analysis?
  2. Where did the data come from?
  3. How was the effectiveness of the investment estimated?
  4. Did the analysis count all of the investment’s costs?
  5. Did the analysis accurately estimate taxpayer costs?
  6. Did the analysis measure the policy’s effect on all of the relevant parties?
  7. What potential costs or benefits were not monetized?
  8. For how long did the study measure costs and benefits?
  9. How did the study adjust future costs and benefits? and
  10. How much confidence should readers have in the results?


For more information on interpreting CBA finding, please see Using Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Policymaking.