A Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs

The costs and benefits of criminal justice policies affect everyone. Understanding what goes into the costs of operating jails, prisons, probation and parole, courts, law enforcement agencies, treatment programs, and other segments of the criminal justice system is important for taxpayers, politicians, practitioners, and society as a whole. Any economic study of a justice-related investment must consider the right cost-benefit information in its calculations. The types of costs and benefits used makes a difference in the accuracy of a study’s findings, as well as their relevance for policymaking, budgeting, and practice. The Vera Institute of Justice’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit has published this guide to help stakeholders and general readers understand “marginal costs”—the amount of change in total cost when a unit of output changes. To download the guide, click here.