The Next Step: Completing the Cost-Benefit Analysis

Sidebar to the article DNA Solves Property Crimes (But Are We Ready for That?) by Nancy Ritter.

The National Institute of Justice is taking the next step to determine whether collecting forensic evidence at property crime scenes is worthwhile given the costs involved.

Because data collection in the first DNA Field Experiment ended in July 2007, the outcomes of many cases — including the number of suspects identified, arrested and prosecuted — could not be included in the cost-benefit analysis performed by the Urban Institute. Although the cost figures reported in the main story — both averages and broken down by the five field sites — offer an important starting point for policymakers who want to consider whether DNA is cost-effective in solving high-volume property crimes, they do not include crucial information about the consequences of arrest, trial and incarceration.

Therefore, the Urban Institute is now looking at the final disposition of cases in the original DNA Field Experiment: the 1,079 cases in the "treatment group" (that tested DNA evidence) and the 1,081 cases in the "control group" (that did not test DNA evidence for at least 60 days).

To do this, researchers will estimate the cost of adjudicating the cases and, by looking at the sentences handed down, will also calculate costs of incarceration or supervision. In addition, they will use various models to predict the number — and type — of crimes "averted" by the burglars' incarceration. These "averted crimes" will then be monetized and compared to the costs of using DNA to identify, arrest, charge, convict and incarcerate the property crime offenders; this, effectively, could be considered the benefit (or "savings") to society of crimes that would have been committed had the offender not been sent to prison. Results of the study are expected next summer.

Date Created: October 27, 2008