Wednesday, December 2, 2015

True Cost of Crime

The Roman lawyer and political theorist Cicero wrote in his dialogue De Legibus that the welfare of the people is the supreme law (Salus populi suprema lex esto).  

This is often forgotten in contemporary America as politicians, jurists and ideologues search desperately for reasons to release criminals from prisons. One reason, often advanced by the leftwing that appeals to the rightwing, are the cost savings derived by doing so.

Some social scientists, such as the University of Pennsylvania's Richard A. Berk, a person for whom I have a great deal of esteem, have developed forecasting models for this purpose. But all too often the science is usurped by the politics and the models are not followed.

But some researchers have determined the costs of crime. Rarely are these featured in "investigative reports" by the mainstream media. For example,

  • Researchers Kathryn E. McCollister, Michael French,  and Hai Fang estimated that "In the United States, more than 23 million criminal offenses were committed in 2007, resulting in approximately $15 billion in economic losses to the victims and $179 billion in government expenditures on police protection, judicial and legal activities, and corrections ....Programs that directly or indirectly prevent crime can therefore generate substantial economic benefits by reducing crime-related costs incurred by victims, communities, and the criminal justice system." (Emphasis added).

My personal belief is that crime is a hidden tax  - and a not so hidden horror - that increases the cost-of-living for everyone. It has a deleterious effect on Americans' quality of life - emotionally, socially and financially. Capital investment into the criminal justice infrastructure by constructing prisons, hiring more police, more sophisticated corrections, improving a broken probation system, and maknig parole officials accountable, will yield a tremendous dividend.

But the corollary to this is supervision. Just as a corporation needs a diligent board of directors, the criminal justice system needs diligent leaders. Solving for this variable may be the most difficult part of the equation.


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