spending on crime prevention saves money

Calculating the costs of crime

Two Swedish economists have tried to calculate the price of violent crime. Their conclusion is that society wins when more is spent on crime prevention.

Economists Ingvar Nilsson and Anders Wadeskog have calculated the costs of crime, weighing in factors like the expenses for the criminal justice system, the health care and rehabilitation of victims, and loss of income. According to Ingvar Nilsson, a single robbery can cost society hundreds of thousands of kronor.

"A very simple crime, like a mugging," he tells Swedish Radio News, "can cost up to SEK 200,000 if you count all the consequences, and from a more serious crime, like a beating that leads to long-term, perhaps permanent, injuries, the costs could rise to SEK 5 to 6 million. If there are really serious consequences, he says the cost to society might be as much as SEK 50 million."

The problem, Ingvar Nilsson says, is that there are so many factors involved. He says they used 200 different variables, such elements as ambulance  costs, emergency room operations, sick leave, the need for personal assistants to support an injured person, the costs of police investigations, and welfare and other support afterwards. The consequences of crime, he tells Swedish Radio News, are extremely multifaceted.

Their conclusion is that spending more on crime prevention pays. Every child who enters a criminal lifestyle means huge expenses for society.

"By the time he’s 35 or 40 years old, and has been a gang member for maybe 10 years," Ingvar Nilsson says, "he may have already cost society 60, maybe 80 million kronor, depending on what kinds of crimes he’s committed. But it is fully possible to stop these processes before they get serious, somewhere in the teen years. So when you look at the costs, it isn’t just a good and humane thing to do, he says, it makes sense economically."

The place to start is the educational system. Basically, Ingvar Nilsson says, it is a failure in schools that provides the recruiting grounds for criminal violence. And you need to reach them before they turn 15.

"If we can catch these boys in school, so that they don’t begin to feel like losers, then," he says, "we can reduce much of this violence."