Conflict Intervention as Crime Prevention

Report Author

Justin R. Corbett

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Table of Contents

Economic Impact

Evidence-Based Impact and Importance

Only as little as 8% to 20% of the total costs of crime are borne by the criminal justice system.297 Developing a more inclusive estimate of the economic impact of prevented crime,298 therefore, is an important but rather complicated practice299 involving subjective300 extra-systemic costs301 sensitive to supra-criminal context.302 These complications notwithstanding, the economic benefit of conflict-oriented crime prevention initiatives has been roundly demonstrated.

Specifically, mediation, restorative conferences, and aligned services provide a systemic return of $4.65 for every $1 invested,303 and a broader social return of up to $8.10 for every $1 invested.304 Restorative justice conferences net an 8:1 return when supplementing traditional late-stage305 prosecution and sentencing practices. These programs are less expensive than traditional justice systems at every stage of case processing306 and can achieve overall cost effectiveness with as little as a 2% success rate307 and in as few as two years.308

These returns are calculated using late-stage conflicts where the substantial costs of the intervention-triggering criminal activity have already occurred and only reductions in recidivism-associated criminal costs are considered. Earlier stage work, on the other hand, that which intervenes before crimes have occurred and which preempts the onset of criminal careers, presents an enormous scope for significant cost savings far exceeding those of late-stage interventions.309

NYC Performance and Potential

MOCJ’s FY2017 investments in service provider-coordinated mediation and other conflict assistive interventions include $800,000 for Borough-wide services and $316,392 for Catchment Area services. Using the latest research on the systemic and select social costs avoided through provider-attributable reductions in recidivism, service providers can reasonably assert a $9 million annual return on investment from their interventions. By comparison, this return is far more significant than those calculated for numerous multi-million dollar initiatives within NYC’s criminal justice system.310

Ultimately, the economic impact of conflict assistive interventions is dependent upon the scale of investment policymakers are willing to contribute toward their implementation.311 MOCJ’s current investment in criminally- oriented conflict programming – a mere 0.001% of the City’s FY2017 overall budget and only 0.01% of its criminal justice spending – significantly undercapitalizes those services’ economic contributions and undercuts their preventative potential. Indeed, the overall magnitude and persistence of this discrepancy between public investment in mediative and restorative services and those services’ collective societal and systemic returns is as though some unfortunate historic oversight – and not evidence-based policymaking – has relegated these services to the sidelines as perpetual pilot projects when their performance and potential beg far greater prominence.

Given their systemic returns and performance on key prevention metrics, ADR service providers are significantly undercapitalized at the City’s current investment level.

Figure 29. Institutional and Social Return on Investment

Based on MOCJ’s FY2017 contracts for Borough-wide and Catchment Area conflict intervention services, a conservative, two-year systemic and social return on investment of up to $9 million is projected. This return narrowly considers the costs of crime prevented as a result of these services. It does not exhaustively account for all offender, victim, and related societal costs associated with crime, its prevention, and the totality of economic-related consequences resulting from each, the inclusions of which would substantially increase this projection.


297. Citing Cohen (1998), Delisi and Gatling (2003) note that the total external costs of a life of crime can be allocated as follows: 25% are tangible victim costs, 50% lost quality of life, 20% criminal justice costs, and 5% offense productivity losses. For select crimes, these the economic burden of crime can shift even further away from the system and onto the already weary shoulders of crime victims. For example, only 8% of the total costs of select assaults – an offense frequently alleged or acknowledged within mediation and restorative interventions – are incurred through the criminal justice system (McCollister, K.E., French, M.T., Fang, H., 2010; referencing those authors’ identified system cost of $8,641 – mirrored in the exchange and inflation adjusted rate reported by Moolenaar [2009] – and their citing of Aos, S. and colleagues’ 2001 calculation of related victim-associated costs averaging $105,545).

298. Numerous methodologies have been developed to quantify the financial and broader economic impact of crime prevention initiatives. These methods vary depending upon investigator interests, and can include bottom-up valuations that seek to affix a specific dollar amount to each component of criminal activity, its processing, and prevention; the more inclusive “top-down” Willingness-to-Pay valuation methodology that incorporate not only criminal justice costs, but victim-related costs, and community-level social degradation costs (Cohen, M.A., Piquero, A.R., 2009); and proximal-distal economic modeling that attempts to predict the long-term future (distal) economic consequences that are based on near-term (proximal) academic, behavioral, and social outcomes (Slade, E.P., Becker, K.D., 2014).

299. Notable exceptions to the ‘underdeveloped’ label must include the detailed work pioneered by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), as well as estimates originating from select UK-based meta-analyses, both of which heavily inform this report’s NYC estimates.

300. Tonry, M. (2015) advocates caution in the use of cost-benefit analyses to design criminal justice policies, as such analyses are subject to wild fluctuations in subjective valuations of victim harm, and because the resulting policies are not evenly distributed, but instead are disproportionately directed toward at-risk populations whose own resulting harm is poorly integrated – if at all – into the calculations informing their criminal consequence. Instead, holistic assessments of harm, those that seek to incorporate victim, offender, community, systemic, and societal perspectives, should be attempted.

301. The cost of crime to society can be divided into four fundamental components: (1) victim costs (i.e. direct economic losses suffered by crime victims, including medical care costs, lost earnings, and property damage/loss); (2) criminal justice system costs (i.e. local, state, and federal government funds spent on police protection, legal and adjudication services, and corrections programs, including incarceration); (3) crime career costs (i.e. opportunity costs associated with the criminal’s choice to engage in illegal rather than legal and productive activities); and (4) intangible costs (i.e. indirect losses suffered by crime victims, including pain and suffering, decreased quality of life, and psychological distress) (McCollister, K.E., French, M.T., Fang, H., 2010). Of these, criminal justice system costs are the best understood.

302. For example, aggregated estimates from programs operating in disparate contexts may smooth substantial return variances between areas with divergent population densities and crime dynamics; effectively masking substantially higher returns on investment from prevention programs operating within population centers, such as NYC. As an illustration, a meta-analysis of UK restorative justice programs, noted the economic returns on investment for largely similar interventions were significantly higher for programs in London (£14:£1) than for programs in less populous areas (£1.2:£1), despite the London programs’ smaller overall effects on recidivism. Among other possible factors, this wide divergence may suggest the existence of an economic multiplier for prevention gains within population centers – a density-informed prevention- premium, of sorts – where criminal activity, its propagation potential, and its resulting cost of harm index carries greater potential socioeconomic consequence than comparable activity in less dense areas.

303. Victim-offender mediation is reported as having a $4.65 return per $1 investment, with a 78% probability that benefits will exceed costs (Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2016).

304. A Campbell Corporation meta-analysis of restorative conferences using ten studies covering a range of offense types across three continents found a social return on investment of between 3.7/8.1:1 return from the benefits in cost of crimes prevented (Sherman, L.W., et al., 2015b).

305. In 2015(b), Sherman and colleagues reported “the overall cost-benefit ratio for UK [restorative justice] experiments is 8:1, or £8 in costs of crime prevented for every £1 spent on providing [restorative justice conferences] to supplement the prosecution and sentencing.”

306. An analysis of the costs incurred at seven key stages within restorative and traditional justice system case processing revealed restorative programs are less expensive at every stage. Personnel-related costs, for example, ranged from $31 and $154 per stage for restorative programs, whereas traditional criminal justice system personnel costs were between $38 and $1,096 per stage (Furman, J.M., 2012).

307. One UK analysis found that a success rate as low as 2% for restorative justice interventions designed to eliminate, reduce, or prevent correctional sentences would be expense neutral. Success rates above 2% would generate criminal justice system cost savings (Sherman, L.W., Strang, H., 2007).

308. “Restorative justice conferences] were cost-effective in all seven UK tests preventing more cost of crime in the short 2 years of follow-up than the cost of delivering the RJCs” (Sherman, L.W., et al., 2015a).

309. “Because offenders tend to be deviant in many aspects of their lives, early prevention that reduces offending will probably have wide-ranging benefits in reducing accommodation problems, relationship problems, employment problems, alcohol and drug problems, and aggressive behaviour. Hence, there is enormous scope for significant cost savings from effective early intervention programmes” (Farrington, D.P., et al., 2006).

310. Example returns for other widely supported NYC initiatives include: drug courts (1.53:1 return), vocational/employment training (1.39:1), and intensive supervision (-1.35:1). For a full list of juvenile and adult-oriented prevention programs that have undergone rigorous cost-benefit assessments, see: Washington State Institute for Public Policy (2016).

311. For a review of how policymaker support levels for prevention interventions can determine cost- effectiveness, see: Foster, E.M., Jones, D. (2006).