Crime by the numbers: What is the cost?

IOWA STATE (US) — A single murder costs society about $17.25 million according to a new study.

Expanding upon earlier monetization estimates, Matt DeLisi, associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University, calculated the costs of five crimes—murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and burglary.

Calculations were made in terms of  victim costs, criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates for both the victim and the criminal, and estimates on the public’s resulting willingness to pay to prevent future violence.

The monetization approach was developed by Mark Cohen, professor of economics, ethics, and corporate social responsibility at Vanderbilt University.

“What we find is that the public is remarkably balanced in terms of crime control,” says DeLisi.

“We aren’t shy about punishing people, but we are also very humanistic and want to prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders. Even if society is very hard on crime, or are crime-control oriented, it seems we’d rather pay money up front than let it all unfold and pay for it later.”

The study is published in the August issue of The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology.

The study uses data from one of DeLisi’s previous studies (2003) on 654 convicted and incarcerated homicide offenders in eight states—Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.

In addition to the per murder cost ($17,252, 656), the researchers calculated that the most violent offenders singly produced costs greater than $150 million.

“That each murder costs more than $17.25 million still does not convey the true costs imposed by homicide offenders in the current sample,” the authors write.

“Since the mean homicide conviction was more than one, the average murderer in these analyses actually imposed costs approaching $24 million. For the offender who murdered nine victims, the total murder-specific costs were $155,457,083.”

Also calculated were the cost of rape ($448,532); armed robbery ($335,733); aggravated assault ($145,379); and burglary ($41,288).

“This area of research has really been run with prevention researchers,” DeLisi says. “That’s because what they find is that even if a prevention program is very expensive—and most of them are actually shockingly inexpensive—they’re still more cost effective than allowing these careers to unfold.”

More news from Iowa State University: