Costs and Consequences: A New Look
Priscilla Schulz, LCSW
from an article of the same title by:
Ted R. Miller, Mark A. Cohen, and Brian Wiersema
U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute
of Justice Research, February 1996
What is the goal of this study?
a comprehensive look at both the incidence of crime and victim costs;
What are the study's primary questions?
estimates currently available from established sources;
data where major gaps exist.
What are the costs and consequences of personal crime for Americans?
Why is this study important?
- When all categories of crimes, incidence and prevalence rates, and
all kinds of victims (e.g., children, the homeless) are considered,
what are the real tangible and intangible costs of crime?
- How do you accurately assess incidence and prevalence rates of crimes?
- How do you quantify intangible costs of crime (e.g., the cost of victim
pain and suffering)?
- What accounts for differences in crime statistics gathered by various
government and private organizations?
- Crime statistics inform public policy. For example, decisions about
whether to spend money on prisons, crime prevention or victim services
stem from cost-benefit analyses and costs of crime data.
- Proper allocation of funds for crime prevention, intervention, punishment,
victim's services, and compensation requires an accurate characterization
of crimes and their real costs to victims and society.
- Accurate measures of crime and costs contribute to assessing effectiveness
of crime response programs.
A paucity of data exists on criminal victimization of children and on
the costs of such crimes.
Prevalence vs. incidence of crime: what's the difference and why
does it matter?
Prevalence rates refer to numbers of people who have experienced crime.
But sometimes an individual is victimized repeatedly, as in the case of
domestic violence and child abuse. Prevalence rates alone can underestimate
crime occurrence and the severity of a crime's effect on and costs to
Incidence rates are counts of victimization, and therefore more accurately
reflect amount of crime. Ten rapes or beatings of a spouse are ten crime
occurrences even though the victim is the same person. Earlier studies
equated the number of victims with the number of crimes, underestimating
the actual number of crimes and throwing off cost estimates accordingly.
Assessing incidence of crime: how did this study deal with it and
what were the problems?
The present study focused on crime data from nationally representative
surveys in which crime definitions were clearly reported. For certain
categories where available statistics were compromised by data collection
methods, this study's researchers:
What are victim costs and consequences according to this study? The findings:
- Used statistical techniques such as capture-recapture modeling that
estimates numbers of victims unknown to original sources from victim
numbers detected by various other sources
- Computed reasonable estimations. For example, because
National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) figures for assaults
counted only assaults for persons 12 and older, this study calculated
nondomestic assaults of children under 12 by multiplying the NCVS assault
count for 12-17 year olds by a ratio composed of the number of medically
treated nondomestic assaults of 0-11 year olds over the number of similarly
treated nondomestic assaults of 12-17 year olds using health care system
The cost of crime is typically underestimated due to problems in data
collection. For example:
- National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS):
- NCVS does not collect information about all crime categories.
Specifically, NCVS excludes child abuse and neglect, drug abuse,
murder, arson, drunk driving and crimes against children under
- Before 1992, NCVS did not directly ask about rape, but left
it to the victim to mention and define it.
- NCVS surveys traditional households and in so doing omits gathering
data on the homeless and those not attached to traditional households.
- NCVS reports exclude repeated (also
called "series") victimizations.
- NCVS disregards long-term losses to victims.
- FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR):
- UCR collects data from police reports and therefore only counts
crimes reported or known to the police; many crimes are never
reported to the police.
- UCR excludes negligent manslaughter cases.
- Vital Statistics:
- Vital Statistics reports incidence of drunk driving fatalities
(primarily negligent manslaughter cases) but excludes deaths
of unknown intent some of which may have been homicides or child
abuse deaths wrongly attributed to other causes.
- Vital Statistics data excludes deaths of victims whose bodies
are not recovered.
- National Incidence and Prevalence Survey of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Because NIS samples Child Protective Services and government
agencies, its count reflects only serious and substantiated cases
- National Family Violence Surveys (Gelles and Straus, 1985, 1976):
- Gelles and Straus use probability sampling techniques and self-report
which are difficult to validate.
- Gelles and Straus' estimates of child abuse incidence exceeded
NIS' and are attributed to differences in the samples used by
Gelles and Straus.
- National Women's Study (NWS):
- NWS provides prevalence data (numbers of victims) rather than
crime incidence data (numbers of victimizations).
- NWS surveys only women and so male rape prevalence must be extrapolated
from already accepted female to male rape ratios.
- NWS surveyed only people 18 and older, leaving rates of childhood
rape to retrospective reports.
Aggregate annual victim costs are computed by considering medical costs,
other tangible/out-of-pocket expenses and the value of intangible quality-of-life
losses of crime victims. When these costs are considered along with incidence
of crimes and repeated victimizations, the following list rank-orders the
top five crimes in the United States that have the highest, annual victim
- Rape (excluding child sexual abuse): $127 billion/year
- Assault: $93 billion/year
- Murder (excluding arson and drunk driving deaths): $71 billion
- Drunk driving (including fatalities): $61 billion
- Child abuse (all categories): $56 billion
A) Intangible losses (i.e., lost quality of life) are the largest cost
component for crimes of violence.
1. Fatalities: Lost quality of life dollar values are generally based
on the amount people spend (in dollars and time) to reduce risk of death.
This study adopted a monetary value of fatality of $2.7 million dollars
(inflated to 1993 dollars), with the lost quality of life component
being about $1.9 million, derived from a 1995 literature review and
synthesis (Miller, et. al.). These figures take into account victims'
life expectancies, lost wages and other tangible losses due to a crime
2. Nonfatal injuries: Monetary values for pain, suffering and lost quality
of life in non-fatal injuries are based on crime and burn victim jury
awards ignoring punitive damages. Estimates of average jury awards for
the typical crime in this study is then calculated by
- determining how jury awards are functions of out-of-pocket crime
costs, victims characteristics and severity of injury,
- then applying these functions to the actual crimes and victims
in the study.
B) Tangible losses: Historically, the cost of crime was understood
solely in terms of direct costs to victims or to the criminal justice
system. Whereas tangible costs are substantial, they do not fully represent
the impact of crimes on victims.
- Property damage and loss: Property damage and loss is calculated
as the largest tangible expense to U. S. crime victims as a result
of property/household crimes such as burglary, larceny and arson.
However, the cost of property damage and loss is often less than 1%
of the real cost to victims of violent crimes.
- Productivity loss (lost wages, lost productivity at work, home or
school, related costs to employers of victims): Productivity losses
are calculated as the second largest tangible cost of all crimes.
The study expanded upon NCVS data to include loss due to crime-induced,
long-term disability. An age-related difference in recuperative abilities
was not assessed.
- Medical care: Medical costs are a substantial cost to victims. The
study expanded upon NCVS estimates to include lifetime medical costs
and legal costs to recover medical costs from perpetrators or insurance
companies. Inference of the medical costs associated with homicide
and child abuse were made by:
- Using equivalent legal precedence (i.e., fatal injuries in
workmen's compensation settlements)
- Making cost estimates based on child abuse victims' actual
length of hospital stay and diagnosis.
- Mental health costs: Because of a lack of data, this study conducted
its own research from which it estimated that between 10-20% of the
U. S. mental health care bill pays to treat victims of violence. The
average murder puts 1.5 to 2.5 persons into counseling, and mental
health care costs are the largest tangible costs of rape and child
- Victim services: Values assessed by the study are deemed underestimates
because data was based on federally funded victim service programs
and therefore does not include the value of volunteers and private,
non-federally-funded programs. More research is recommended.
Police and fire services: Virtually all murder and arson cases involve
the police; less than half of all other crimes involves these services.
Overall, police and fire service costs are a relatively small portion
of the total cost of crime, but in any one municipality, they may be significant.
What is the effect of ignoring intangible costs of crime when making
The study sites an example of this error from Cohen,
et al (1988). An early release from prison program in a community was
calculated to cost less in terms of the costs of crime committed by the
early release recidivists than the cost to build more prison space, when
only tangible costs were included. Later, when the value of the community's
pain, suffering and lost quality of life were considered, the costs of
the early release program exceeded the cost of making prison space.
Why are crime costs per victim assessed
higher in this study than in other national crime cost surveys?
This study's estimates of cost are higher because it added data where
data were missing, undervalued or ignored by other studies. For example:
- Costs per victim are greater when the repetitive nature of certain
crimes is considered. In some classes of crime, such as rape and domestic
violence, victims can suffer repeatedly, so costs per victim are greater
than costs per crime occurrence.
- This study estimated long-term costs to victims by various methods.
Other studies discounted victims' responses when they were unsure of
their real out-of-pocket expenses for a crime. This study assigned such
cases the mean cost among other, similar cases with known costs.
What are some additional findings of the study?
- Currently there is no standardized method of measuring the impact
of crime, nor are crimes well defined by reporting agencies.
- Little is known about the true extent and consequences of violence
against, or abuse and neglect, of children.
The present study makes reasonable estimates based on and extrapolating
from existing data.
- Cost is a promising way to unify the variables for measuring the real
impact of crime. Research is needed to answer this question: In monetary
terms, how do domestic violence and child maltreatment affect the long-term
productivity of the victims?
- There is a lack of accurate personal data on murder victims. This
interferes with monetary assessment of loss.
- Institutional awareness, participation and interagency collaboration
are needed to continue to collect data that will contribute to accurate,
future assessments of crime costs.
- Data on proven violence prevention programs are absent at this point
in the debate over crime costs.
Reviewed by: Priscilla Schulz, LCSW, August 1999