Cost-Effective Criminal Enforcement
A law and economics approach
Kosteneffectieve strafrechtelijke handhaving: Een rechtseconomische analyse
Crime cannot be defeated at any price. Whenever the government decides which portion of the public budget to devote to prevent crime, it needs to look at the costs and expected benefits of its decision. Eliminating all crimes is not necessarily the best solution even if it was possible. This policy would be too costly for the society and it might not be justified by higher benefits. Furthermore, these budgetary sources might be spent more efficiently elsewhere, e.g. research, higher education, road infrastructure, etc. Countries choose different ways to prevent crimes. Those methods can vary not only in the process and the result, but also in the costs imposed on the society by the chosen policies. For instance, following a significant increase in the number of crimes, between mid-1970s and the 1990s the United States (US) became “tough on crime”. The new policies consisted of police force increase, higher incarceration rates due to tougher punishments (e.g. three strikes laws1) and parole revocations. This novel approach to crime control resulted in more than 2 million people in the US prisons by the year 2000, i.e. approximately four times more than it was in the 1970s.2 Due to this policy, currently US observe the highest rate of incarceration in the world. While constituting 5% of the global population, US have 25% of the world’s prisoners. The effect of maintaining prisons for bigger population, and employing more policemen is a costly policy for the society. To illustrate, the American correction budget due to increased imprisonment had grown from $ 9 billion in 1982 to $ 69 billion in 2006. In 2007, US spent $288 billion on police, correction institutions and courts. Governments often seek ways to reduce this expenditure without harming the efficiency of the criminal justice system. The need for a reduction in this expenditure grew even further in light of the global crisis over the period 2008-2010 and the following sovereign debt crisis in 2010-2012 in the European Union (EU). Resulting budget consolidations in some of the EU countries led to substantial cuts in expenditure on enforcement, i.e. police and prison expenditure. For instance, in the United Kingdom (UK) the budget of public order and safety, in relative terms, was reduced significantly by the austerity measures in recent years.7 Similarly, the police authorities in Finland face budget reductions in the upcoming period.8 Despite the necessity of budget cuts, their implementation in the enforcement of law ought to be cautious. Governments might be myopic regarding the elements of the enforcement system that continue functioning with reduced budgets. Therefore, effectiveness of different crime control measures should be taken into account when deciding on austerity plans.