Sociology professor’s study shows average cost of crimes

Thane Himes

A recent ISU study shows the average cost of a murder is around $17.25 million.

The study was conducted by Matt DeLisi, coordinator of criminal justice studies and associate professor of sociology, along with a team of five sociology graduate students — Alan Drury, Emily Hachmeister, Anna Kosloski, Matt Moore and Molly Sween.

The team studied data collected by DeLisi in 2003 and cases of 654 prison inmates convicted of homicide, and calculated the monetary cost of murder by looking at various factors of the impact and costs of crime — including each case’s number of offenses, the victim’s costs of the crime, the costs of the criminal justice resources utilized for each case [investigation, arrest, attorneys, adjudication, etc.], the cost of incarceration on a daily basis, the average time served and the opportunity costs of the offender’s time.

“The biggest factor in calculating the cost of crime was society’s willingness to pay estimates for prevention programs focusing on helping those at risk for anti-social behavior,” DeLisi said. “People have proven to be very balanced about crime control. We’ve agreed that it’s better to pay money now than to let these criminal careers grow until nothing can be done for them later.”

“Most people view the cost of murder as an incalculable thing,” DeLisi said. “A single horrifying crime can shock the entire country. This research helps promote prevention programs because putting a number on the cost of homicide makes it that much more shocking when one sees just how high that number is. It’s far less expensive to prevent these crimes than to have all those costs add up, especially when one considers that most of these career criminals commit murder more than once.”

DiLisi and his research team also calculated the average costs of rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary, which were $448,532, $335,733, $145,379 and $41,228, respectively.

While these numbers are incredibly high, DeLisi believes that much is already being done to bring those costs down.

“What one has to keep in mind when looking at this research is that the majority of these cases are career criminal adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s, before preventative programs like we have now really started to take effect,” DiLisi said.

“The study of early child development is a big business nowadays,” he said. “Lots of research is being done to learn more about the causes of anti-social behavior. There are also a large number of prevention programs nowadays that aim to stop delinquent behavior now as opposed to later. There are programs focusing on everything from helping youth at risk of anti-social behavior to rehabilitating convicted criminals so they can rejoin society.”

Unfortunately, not everyone is responsive to those conventional methods.

“Imagine you’re the teacher of a classroom,” DeLisi said. “The children are talking and being disruptive, and some are even fighting with one another. So you turn the lights on and off, indicating for the class to calm down and pay attention. It works for almost everyone, but there is always a small number of people that just don’t respond to preventative or correctional programs. The problem is that some folks are so anti-social, you can’t help them. The good news is that most of society has that willingness to pay for prevention programs helping those people that are capable of getting better.”