Using Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Policymaking

Using Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Policymaking


Vera Institute of Justice


Christian Henrichson

Justice policymakers must make tough decisions with limited resources. Any number of investments, whether in law enforcement, corrections, probation—or even programs outside the justice system, such as early childhood education—can promote public safety. The critical question is which choices produce the greatest benefits.

Increasingly, government officials and other decision makers are turning to cost-benefit analysis (CBA)—an economic tool that compares the costs of programs with the benefits they deliver—to help weigh their options. But justice-related cost-benefit studies can be complicated, technical, and hard to understand, making it easy for people to misinterpret their findings and overlook critical information that can aid their decisions.

This white paper was written for a broad range of readers, including elected officials and their staff, policymakers, justice agency personnel, and service providers. It is meant to help people make sense of justice CBAs even if they have little interest or expertise in examining the details of a cost-benefit study.

You can access this resource online here.