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Advancing the Quality of Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Programs

Do you need a quick introduction to cost-benefit (CBA) analysis? Then this white paper is for you. “Cost-benefit analysis is an economic assessment tool that compares the costs and benefits of policies and programs for the time they produce their impacts. The hallmark of CBA is that costs and benefits are both expressed in monetary terms so that they can be directly compared. CBA supplies policymakers with information to weigh the pros and cons of alternative investments and enables them to identify options that are cost-effective and will have the greatest net social benefit. Because benefits are always expressed in dollar terms, CBA also enables decision makers to compare policies and programs that have different purposes and outcomes. Although CBA is a well-established economic method, it has not been widely used in criminal justice ... This report offers guidance on important conceptual and practical issues surrounding the use of CBA to inform justice policymaking” (p. 1). Five sections are contained in this publication: perspectives of taxpayers, crime victims, offenders, the rest of society, and whose perspectives to include in a CBA; the evaluation component of CBA-predicting or measuring program impacts (i.e., non-experimental, experimental, quasi-experimental designs, and meta-analysis); valuing the costs and impacts of justice policies and programs; dealing with uncertainty in impacts-sensitivity, partial sensitivity, best-case and worse-cast, break-even, and Monte Carlo analyses; and making CBAs clearer and more accessible-general recommendations, documentation, and reporting results.