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Vera Institute of Justice (New York NY)

"Any economic study of a justice-related investment needs to use the right cost information in its calculations. The type of cost used makes a difference in the accuracy of a study’s findings, as well as its relevance for policymaking, budgeting, and practice. Vera’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit has published this guide to help technical users and general readers understand marginal cost—the amount of change in total cost when a unit of output changes." “This guide [in particular] instructs policy analysts how to calculate a particular kind of taxpayer costs called marginal costs for use in CBAs (cost-benefit analyses) of criminal justice programs and policies … A cost-benefit analysis aims to measure the net benefit to society, but this guide covers only costs to taxpayers and not societal costs of crime, which include fear of crime, avoidance costs, and emotional and physical harm to victims” (p. 4). Sections cover: introduction; what marginal costs are—types of government costs, short-run and long-run marginal costs, and taxpayer benefits versus taxpayer savings; how to calculate marginal costs—methods, and data collection; examples in the justice system—prisons and jails, probation and parole, courts, law enforcement, and programs; recommendations for analysts and justice agencies; resources for methods and data.

A Guide to Calculating Cover

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.

Advancing the Quality Cover

"On September 17, 2014, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) convened a two-day conference in Rockville, Maryland called Bridging the Gap: Improving the Health of Justice-Involved People through Information Technology. The meeting aimed to address the problems of disconnected justice and health systems and to develop solutions by describing barriers, benefits, and best practices for connecting community providers and correctional facilities using health information technology (HIT) … The following proceedings give an overview of each session and a synthesis of the obstacles to instituting HIT solutions for information sharing detailed during the meeting. The proceedings address the importance of using emerging HIT to respond to the growing problem of people with mental health and substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system and to articulate a vision of how HIT can facilitate ongoing connections between health and justice systems" (p. 2). Sections cover: the vision—no wrong door; from correctional facilities to community providers; from community providers to correctional facilities; challenges of using health information technology to improve the health of justice-involved people; overcoming challenges—opportunities and solutions; resources for finding solutions; case study—creating a health ecosystem in Louisville, Kentucky.

Bridging the Gap Cover

“Interest in using cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to help in criminal justice policymaking and planning has grown in recent years as state and local budgets have become increasingly strained. Most jurisdictions, however, have not been able to create a sustained capacity to produce and use CBA in decision making and budgeting. The Vera Institute of Justice organized a roundtable discussion to examine what factors might help jurisdictions build lasting capacity to use and perform CBA … The discussion highlighted the need for expertise in conducting cost-benefit studies. It also highlighted the need for trusted, credible organizations that can house this expertise. And participants talked about structures and processes that would help bring cost-benefit information to policymakers and integrate CBA as part of decision making” (p. 1). Topics covered include: organizations that can house CBA capacity—credibility, newly established organizations, location, and administration and funding (or covering your costs); staffing—advertising positions and searching for staff, characteristics of good staff, and other ways to staff; and making CBA part of the process—the importance of integrating CBA, CBA and the budgeting barrier, forecasts and feedback, putting your money where your mouth is, and other activities.

Building Cost Benefit Analysis Cover

"Justice policymakers must make tough choices with limited resources. To help weigh their options, decision makers are increasingly turning to cost-benefit analysis (CBA), an economic tool that compares the costs of programs or policies with the benefits they deliver. This emerging demand for justice CBA means that many researchers are being called upon to conduct these studies for the first time and are looking for resources to help them get started. A common misconception is that you can perform CBA by inputting data into a common set of formulas. In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all template. Each analysis must be tailored to the investment being studied. There is, however, a common CBA methodology, or series of steps, you must follow to produce cost-benefit results. The purpose of this toolkit is to guide justice analysts through these steps. It is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of CBA methods" (p. 4). Sections cover: introduction; overview of cost-benefit analysis; before you get started; Step 1: Identify the investment’s potential impacts; Step 2: Quantify the investment’s impacts; Step 3: Determine marginal costs; Step 4: Calculate costs, benefits, and net present value; Step 5: Test the assumptions; Step 6: Report the results; and using CBA to inform policy and practice.

Cost-Benefit Analysis and Justice Policy Toolkit Cover

"Recent research suggests that Deaf women experience higher rates of sexual and domestic violence than their hearing counterparts, but are often shut off from victim services and supports that are ill-equipped to respond to their unique needs. As a result, they are denied access to services that could help them safely flee from abuse, heal from trauma, and seek justice after they have been harmed. This policy brief offers practical suggestions for expanding and enhancing Deaf survivors’ access to victim services and other supports" (website). Sections of this publication include: introduction; the Deaf community in the U.S.; research on victimization is limited; higher rates of domestic and sexual violence; unique experiences of violence; barriers to services and justice; Services for Deaf, by Deaf—a promising strategy; enhancing the capacity of hearing service providers and systems; collaboration between Deaf and hearing programs; five recommendations; and conclusion.

Culture, Language, and Access:; Key Considerations for Serving Deaf Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence cover

"This report, modeled on promising approaches in the mental health field to people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, outlines a new integrated framework that encourages the mental health and criminal justice fields to collaborate on developing programs based on early intervention, an understanding of the social determinants that underlie ill health and criminal justice involvement, and recovery-oriented treatment."

First-Episode Incarceration Cover

“Are there connections between these three shifts – a decrease in crime, a decrease in the correctional population, and a sharp increase in controversial police practices? What factors contributed to these shifts? What about the costs of these shifts? Have they been evaluated and weighed against the benefits? In this report, leading criminologists James Austin and Michael Jacobson take an empirical look at these powerful social changes and any interconnections. Examining data from 1985 to 2009, they conclude that New York City’s “broken windows” policy did something unexpected: it reduced the entire correctional population of the state. As the NYPD focused on low-level arrests, it devoted fewer resources to felony arrests. At the same time, a lowered crime rate – as an additional factor – meant that fewer people were committing felonies. This combination led to fewer felony arrests and therefore fewer people entering the correctional system. Other policies – like programs that stopped punishing people with prison if not necessary – also contributed to this population drop” (p. 3). Sections of this report following an executive summary are: decline in New York prison population—drop in admissions and increase in statewide length of stay; decline in New York parole, probation, and jail populations; delayed effect on state corrections budget; accompanying drop in New York City’s crime rate and shift in arrest policy; and conclusion.

How New York City

"Although jails are the “front door” to mass incarceration, there is not enough data for justice system stakeholders and others to understand how their jail is being used and how it compares with others. To address this issue, Vera researchers developed a data tool that includes the jail population and jail incarceration rate for every U.S. county that uses a local jail … The data revealed that, since 1970, the number of people held in jail has increased from 157,000 to 690,000 in 2014—a more than four-fold increase nationwide, with growth rates highest in the smallest counties. This data also reveals wide variation in incarceration rates and racial disparities among jurisdictions of similar size and thus underlines an essential point: The number of people in jail is largely the result of choices made by policymakers and others in the justice system. The Incarceration Trends tool provides any jurisdiction with the appetite for change the opportunity to better understand its history of jail use and measure its progress toward decarceration" (website). This website provides access to the Incarceration Trend tool for jails, summary, full report, a video tour of the tool with Chris Henrichson, and data and methods. Sections comprising the full report include: introduction; the expanding footprint of local incarceration—a snapshot of the findings—decades of growth, and growth's disparate impacts; understanding growth and disparities; using the Incarnation Trends tool; and conclusion. The Incarceration Trends tool is interactive and illustrates data per 100,000 county residents for: jail incarceration rate change (1970 to 2014); the 2014 jail incarceration rate; Black/African American jail incarceration rate; female jail incarceration rate; jail and prison incarceration rate for California and New York; what is trending in your county—exploring your counties jail data. One interesting finding is that the largest increase in the number of incarcerated individuals is occurring in mid-sized and small counties. Since 1970, local jail populations in mid-sized counties have grown 4.1 percent, small counties 6.9%, and large counties by 2.8%.

Racial Disparities & Dynamics in the Criminal Justice System cover

"Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color. This report reviews existing research and data to take a deeper look at our nation’s misuse of local jails and to determine how we arrived at this point. It also highlights jurisdictions that have taken steps to mitigate negative consequences, all with the aim of informing local policymakers and their constituents who are interested in in reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier communities."

Sections of this report include: gateway to the criminal justice system—what a jail is; decades of growth; portrait of the jailed (mental illness); costs and consequences—worse case outcomes and decreased public safety, differential racial impact, accumulation of criminal justice debt, declining health, and harm to families and communities; diagnosing Los Angeles County's overcrowded jails; six key decision points that influence the use and size of jails—arrest (Broken Windows policing, and alternatives to arrest and detention), charge (in lieu of prosecution, and right-sizing the Jail in New Orleans), pretrial release and bail (what risk assessment is, facilitating pretrial release, and diversion and release opportunities during the typical criminal case trajectory flowchart), case processing (case processing reforms), disposition and sentencing (investing in alternative dispositions, and reentry and community supervision (using administrative data to prioritize jail reentry services, and improving community supervision and restructuring criminal justice debt); and conclusion. This website provides access to the full report, report summary, and a very good infographic.

Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America Cover


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