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The average cost of a murder tops $17.2 million, according to a new study that calculated the monetary costs of criminal careers. Researchers assessed the total costs -- from the cost of incarceration to lost productivity -- stemming from murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary.
The average cost of a murder tops $17.2 million, according to a new study that calculated the monetary costs of criminal careers using a sample of 654 convicted and incarcerated murderers. Researchers assessed the total costs -- from the cost of incarceration to lost productivity -- stemming from murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary in the study Murder by Numbers.
I spoke last week with study author Matt DeLisi, editor of the Journal of Criminal Justice and coordinator of criminal justice studies at Iowa State University, about his surprising findings -- and about what he hopes they'll do.
Talk about how you calculated the costs of the crimes.
The actual costs of the crime are derived from work by a scholar named Mark Cohen. The Murder by Numbers study is kind of a validation study using his methods and applying it to a different data set. The original work in this area looks at victim cost, the cost of arrest and adjudication, the cost of incarceration, the opportunity costs of offenders' time, productivity.
In recent years, they've added another variable called 'willingness to pay.' Willingness to pay is the amount of money the general public would be willing to pay to try to preclude crime from happening. It's the willingness to pay for crime prevention. That includes personal security, avoidant behaviors, third-party cost of insurance, government welfare programs, safeguards against victimization. Recent research suggests these willingness to pay estimates are anywhere from two to 10 times higher than the previous estimates of the cost of crime. These willingness to pay estimates, because they're much larger, are capturing some of these intangible costs associated with crime and victimization.
Having said all of that, it's clear to me that many of these costs are simply incalculable. You really can't put a price tag on a homicide victimization or a sexual assault victimization. We can create estimates, but I also firmly believe that many of these costs are simply beyond money and they have a deep psychological and social effect.
Were you surprised by the numbers you found?
I was somewhat surprised because I had never done a cost of crime study where the willingness to pay component was in there. For example, for murder the total cost was about $17.3 million. Over $12 million of that was encompassed in the willingness to pay component and nearly $5 million was pertaining to victim costs. Another thing that jumps out is because the offenders have admitted at least one homicide offense, by definition they were going to be very costly offenders. The range of homicide victims was one to nine, so the individual who murdered nine people had costs in the $150 million to $160 million range.
If you think qualitatively about a homicide offender or a multiple homicide offender, there are enormous costs associated with it. I'm thinking of the Washington D.C. sniper case in 2002. Think of the effect that had on the D.C. area and surrounding states. You had this tremendous fear, tremendous uncertainty and all these protective measures people started to do to safeguard against being a victim of these purely random crimes. These estimates provide a monetary value to the huge effects a single offender or extreme offender can produce.
How did your study advance previous research?
The contribution of my study is two things. One is use of a different data set. The second, and more important part, is it's an enriched sample, or a more pathological sample. In the literature, there's going to be conventional samples where the offenders aren't necessarily as severe, so it's likely their costs won't be as high. This study shows that if we go to the extreme and look at homicide offenders, they will presumably have the highest cost.
What's the purpose of attaching monetary figures to crimes? Do you have a goal for this research?
There is a large and vibrant prevention world that tries to identify at-risk youth and at-risk families and provide some modestly-costing social services that will try to push kids out of risky or at-risk environments into more normative or pro-social environments. I'm hoping these monetization studies show the end result of what happens if we allow crime to go over a lengthy criminal career. My hope is that this information -- because no one wants to pay for these costs, let alone endure all the victimization -- provides an incentive to continue to invest in prevention. Prevention has been going on for at least 50 years and it's a large area of research in the social and behavioral sciences. There's a lot of grant money invested in it. Social scientists have been well aware that if we can provide services upfront we can many times preclude delinquency and associated problems from developing.
Image: Matt DeLisi
Oct 13, 2010
"A relationship reason to kill another may be due to spouse abuse. Many of those killings were tried and punished as murders while they were in reality cases of self-defense." So goes the Feminist mantra, but it really is murder. Domestic violence and controlling behavior by women is vastly unreported and regularly excused or ignored. The cost of paying for security seem based upon the irrational, more related to media coverage than actual crime, which has been declining. This is greatly illustrated by the response to 9/11. Fluffy scholarship.
Actual cost of murder => $.05 Which is the price of 1 NATO bullet. The rest of the monies claimed in this article, are a synthetic price calculated by assumptions of a theoretical value. I'd like to add here that as a child, our chemistry teacher told us that the human body had about $15. of various chemicals making it up when dried. But then, that's what's do whacky about the ?slippery slope? of thinking of life, as having ?value?? For an example let's say that a murder victim is calculated to cost $17 million, but in one case, it was the next Hitler who was killed? We do not know that is not possible, but it should be remembered, that many murders are committed against people in less than 100% innocent situations, so who is to say whether the victim, may not have themselves become a perpetrator, an ultimate! perpetrator? So let's say then, that a perp kills the next Hitler, because this might have happened in the last 60 years at least ...?once?? Well, for a full scale world war's worth of murders... let's say 40 million people, at $17 million each... that's $680 trillion in 'murder credit' earned and I doubt that perp will be able to ?spend? that by themselves.. so, we all get a piece of that credit, by default. This means that the next century of heinous murders are likely ?prepaid??! Thus the cost of murder is now in the negative, and next time someone kills, they should just say, ?Charge it!?
Let's look at the math: Total cost of murder = $17,3 million _ Willingness to pay component = over $12 million _ Victim costs = nearly $5 million For the sake of argument, let's assume that: _ $17,3 million is correct (sounds absurd but let's not question that for the moment) _ trial + imprisionment + loss of productivity of the murderer is about 2/3 of the willingness to pay component => about $8 million _ the other $4 million of the willingness to pay component is proporcional to the number of victims Studdy author Matt DeLisi says: "The range of homicide victims was one to nine, so the individual who murdered nine people had costs in the $150 million to $160 million range." Questions: 1. Do trials of individuals who murdered nine people cost nine times more than trials of individuals who murdered one person? 2. Does imprisionment of individuals who murdered nine people cost nine times more than imprisonment of individuals who murdered one person? 3. Is the loss of productivity of individuals who murdered nine people nine times higher than the loss of productivity of individuals who murdered one person? Answer to questions 1, 2 and 3: No. But _ 9 x 17,3 = 155,7 million sounds a lot better than _ 1 x 8 + 9 x 4 + 9 x 5 = 8 + 36 + 45 = 89 million when you want to "prove" that murder costs a lot of money. Murder does cost a lot of money but when you produce "studies" to promote your own political agenda (and yourself), it's tempting to be "creative" with the math. I agree that prevention is paramount. But, as Matt DeLisi says, society cannot "allow crime to go over a lengthy criminal career". And that has to mean NOT to shift blame from criminals to society nor to the victims. And (at least here, in Portugal) many mistake helping people to avoid being dragged into a life of crime with blaming society for the crimes those people have already commited. Not to "allow crime to go over a lengthy criminal career" means: _ help people who need help, _ make them responsible for their own choices and actions and _ swift and hard punishment for every crime commited.
The "justice" system is the exact opposite of it's name. It's run by delusional psychopaths working for their masters the for profit prison system. Close the entire system down, imprison the operators of the concentration camps and perhaps you have the ground work for a new system based on Justice instead of greed.
Some of these costs are debatable. It includes the costs of crime prevention, which is a lose-lose calculation on the surface. And it includes the lost productivity of the perpetrator. Once someone commits a murder, there's really no alternatives than imprisonment or death, is there? The previous comments illustrate the divide between perception & reality when it comes to crime statistics. When you say "murder", people picture the career criminal or the gang member. The sad truth is, the most common motive for murder isn't profit but passion - spouses & partners killing each other over broken relationships.
What if we did nothing? I can tell you that I'd be on the next boat to almost anywhere that will at least eliminate murderers from their society, for my own safety before the fact more than satisfaction after. What would be the cost of people like me fleeing in droves? Then, of course, comes the touchy subject of just what constitutes murder. Forces at work keep trying to lower that bar gradually, and even as secretly as possible, clearly to prevent panic. I'm looking at Costa Rica.
People kill other people for various reasons, or even no reason at all. Accidental deaths are not murders. Killing in self-defense, or defense of another is also not murder; something I'm not sure the "study" factored out. While there are monetary reasons for someone to kill another, and there are socio-economic reasons to do so, those are not the sole reasons. Far too many cases of murder are for relationship reasons. A relationship reason to kill another may be due to spouse abuse. Many of those killings were tried and punished as murders while they were in reality cases of self-defense. But the biggest relationship reason is based on the fact that most humans consider and treat their sexual partners as property and extensions of themselves. It would require a world-wide revolution to change this behavior into allowing low-stress, non-possessive, non-violent resolutions to changes in intimate, interpersonal relationships.
How much to arm and train citizens to not be victims? You can calculate the savings on not having to try murderers, not having to house them for multiple decades, reduction in police staffing, etc.
I'd be interested to see the same calculations done with other countries to see how the US differs. It's possible that we are missing opportunities that other countries use. Since we are one of the few countries that still have death sentences for capital crimes, I would also like to see numbers on that. Because of the way we inflict death on people sentenced to death, it cannot be a deterrent. For it to be used as a deterrent, it has to be something that people absolutely don't want happen to them. A cost study would be one way to determine if the death penalty should remain, or to be removed since we already know the deterrent factor is gone. (BTW, I am NOT a death penalty opponent)
The cost of preventing murder was larger than the cost of a murder. The prevention was a mix of adding security, being more aware and changing behaviors to avoid risk. Prevention in this case is similar to measures taken to prevent large fires. It is expensive for a house to burn down and it costs a certain amount to prevent it from burning. I have to take exception to the euphemism "At risk" because it is vague when talking about people who are in dire poverty and desparate enough to turn to crime. The euphemism glosses over a lot of factors that make the bottom sector vulnerable to crime and becoming criminals. It is like the George Carlin routine about battle fatigue morphing into post traumatic stress syndrome; changing the name made the condition more palitable but does not add to helping those who suffer from that intense stress. What the "at risk" people need is work that pays well enough to feel like a citizen and not a charity case.
Are there good studies that show the effectiveness of prevention spending? How much is enough? Since many murders are among family members, what kind of prevention programs can help there?
It seems to me that much of the "costs" here are related to the fear factor. How much would it cost/ save to simply throttle the media frenzy that accounts for most of the panic and paranoia after sensational murders?
Does the US ever consider comparing these issues with similar issues in other countries? Northern Europe comes to mind.