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Evaluating crime prevention: methodological issues arising from the experience with cost-effectiveness analysis in the United Kingdom

By Ann Netten and Martin R J. Knapp


<p>Text from the introduction\ud \ud <p><p><p>One of the most striking aspects of the field of criminal justice and crime prevention to relative outsiders (most of our work is in the field of health and social care) is, that when they are mentioned at all, enormous emphasis is put on the costs of crime. Take this opening paragraph: \ud \ud <p><p><p>'Approaching £10,000 million are spent annually on police, courts, probation service and prisons whose task is to grapple with crime and its consequences. Yet out of all the crimes against property and individuals each year - an estimated 18 million in England and Wales - fewer than half are ever reported to the police, fewer than 5 per cent are officially “cleared up” and just 3 per cent result in the offender being cautioned by the police or convicted by the courts.' (Utting, 1996)\ud \ud <p><p><p>Today I want to argue that such starting points can have a profound and unhelpful effect on the design of evaluations that<p><p>are intended to reduce the levels of crime or divert people from criminal justice options. There are three common assumptions: \ud \ud <p><p><li>the first assumption is that crime is expensive - that there is an iceberg of costs out there and that we don’t know the half of it.</li><p><p><li>the second assumption is that the operation of the criminal justice system is expensive - that there is this huge bureaucracy and associated services that are probably very inefficient as they clearly cost such a lot from whichever estimates or guesstimates you take.</li><p><p><li>the third assumption is that prison is expensive - that it costs more to lock people up than it does to administer community penalties or other alternatives.</li><p><p><p>Following on from such assumptions it will often seem self-evident to those involved in proposing or implementing approaches that are designed to prevent crime, divert people from prosecution or keep people out of prison that if they succeed in their aim, by definition they must be cost-effective. In setting up the evaluation therefore they tend to identify the aim and ask in the economists to find out how much they are saving. In our experience the economists have a tendency to identify few if any savings and sometimes clear areas of increased cost. If economics had not had the reputation of the 'dismal science' before it certainly would have got it after a few of these encounters.\ud \ud <p><p><p>This is not always the case, of course, and examples such as the High Scope Perry Pre-school programme which you have just heard about illustrate a clear cut economic advantage (Barnett, 1985). But such clear straightforward messages of increased benefit and lower cost tend to be the exception rather than the rule. When evaluating the economics of a particular innovation it is important to have a framework that can address the mixed messages that often emerge from evaluations. Today I want to start by outlining a framework which has been developed in the field of health and social care but which we have found to have broader applicability and then discuss the four main principles which flow from this and their application to the field of crime prevention and criminal justice.\ud \ud <p><p><p>Paper presented at <i>Crime Prevention: Money Well Spent?</i,> Seminar on the social and cost effectiveness of crime<p><p>prevention, September 30 1996, Ottowa, Ontario

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