Beyond the economic cost of crime

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Burglary, murder, and identity theft, including all other crimes, have costs for the society, government, and victims.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, crime-related expenses incurred by the federal, state, and local governments totaled more than $280 billion in 2012 only. The money was spent on criminal justice, including police protection, the court system, and prisons.

Although there are many other costs that concerned investigators consider while estimating the total cost of crime in the United States, Watch Blog, a U.S. government accountability website, categorized costs as tangible (such as replacing damaged property) and intangible (like victims’ pain and suffering).

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After analyzing varying annual costs of crime in the U.S. that range from $690 billion to $3.41 trillion, The researchers revealed that they found no commonly used approach to estimating the real costs. However, they noted that developing an accurate estimate is tasking because of the difficulty in determining the intangible costs of crime.

Other challenges include knowing exactly how much crime occurs within a period or an area under study, for example, it is very hard to work with often incomplete information on cases such as embezzlement (white-collar crime) and online identify theft (cyber-related crime). Information on physical violence or property crimes are more accessible.

Additionally, methods that researchers use to estimate costs may require many complex steps, which can lead to greater uncertainty in the total estimate. For example, one study estimated that premature deaths from methamphetamine use cost about $4.9 billion, but actual costs could be higher or lower.

What is the gain from cost of crime estimates and policy?

Crime cost estimates can help inform criminal justice policies. For example, the state of Washington uses these estimates to help identify juvenile crime prevention programs that are most effective at reducing crime and its costs to society.