The cost of crime in New Zealand has been estimated at $9.1 billion per year. However that really is just an estimate. The problem with calculating the cost of crime is that it's complicated. No one has figured out a way to do it accurately yet and they probably never will.
Some costs we can easily account for. We know what we spend each year on the justice sector, for example. We can even break this expenditure down further, say to the cost of keeping someone in prison for a day. Calculations based on state spending tend to be the most straightforward, as they are tangible costs.
Although they bear the brunt of the costs of crime, costs to individuals and communities are much more difficult to quantify. Many of them are intangible. As Tony Payne explains, "the most significant costs to victims lie in spaces that are hidden from calculators." Even 'minor' crimes can have life-long, life-altering effects. This is true for both victims and offenders.
What's more, the impact of crime is not limited to those who are directly involved. The true cost of crime includes broken families and the erosion of community cohesion and social capital. Not things that we can easily put a dollar figure on.
These social or intangible costs relate to both crime itself and our attempts to respond to it. Both those close to victims and those close to offenders are at risk of the above and more. As crime is concentrated within certain communities, so too are these costs. Young people, poor people and Māori are among those that pay the most.
Although they can't all be quantified, Rethinking believes that all of these costs need to be taken into account when responding to crime in New Zealand. Our goal should be to reduce crime and its costs through policies and programmes that are both fiscally and socially cost effective. To do so, we need to look at the big picture and not just consider the justice system (or parts of it) in isolation. If we don't, the investments we make are not likely to provide the right returns and cost cutting in some areas may actually result in even greater costs to others. A range of social, economic and political interventions are necessary to prevent crime and create a society in which everyone benefits from justice, safety, economic and social security.
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