Measuring, managing and interpreting the impact of drugs & drug related crime - NIJ Publications Update

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National Institute of Justice: Strengthen Science. Advance Justice.

Through the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, NIJ has made available the following final technical reports:

See below for additional details. These reports are the results of NIJ-funded projects but were not published by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Title: How Much Crime Is Drug-Related? History, Limitations, and Potential Improvements of Estimation Methods (pdf, 44 pages)
Authors: Jonathan P. Caulkins, Mark A.R. Kleiman

Drug-related crime imposes an enormous burden on society. Estimating the total societal burden or “cost” of drug-related crime entails two tasks: measuring the total cost of all crime and determining the portion of crime that is “drug-related.” This series of articles serve as a guide to understanding what the estimates are attempting to measure, how to interpret the results, and what may be the implications of these estimates for public policy and practice.

This first article in the series addresses how to measure the costs of drug-related crime, not so much in terms of numerical estimates but, rather, in calculating the human, societal and economic costs. The authors discuss the challenges of quantifying the amount of crime control and drug use reduction programs and their relationships to drug-attributable crime, including the use of drug attribution factors, their fundamental limitations in measuring crimes indirectly caused by drug use, and strategies for improving their effectiveness. The authors also suggest a framework for tracking crimes that are indirectly caused by drug use — although these crimes cannot currently be quantified —and they recommend a two-layer approach: a quantified estimate of the amount of crime that is directly and contemporaneously caused by drug-related activity plus a qualitative framework describing indirect effects not previously included in the quantification.

Title: Reducing Drug Violence in Mexico: Options for Implementing Targeted Enforcement (pdf, 66 pages)
Authors: Jocelyn Chi, Lila Hayatdavoudi, Sarah Kruszona, Brad Rowe, Mark A.R. Kleiman

The systemic violence in foreign countries, particularly Latin America, associated with the production and transportation of drugs necessary to supply the demand of American consumers, has garnered sustained attention from a variety of research perspectives. The recent escalation of violence in Mexico has focused attention on the particular challenges they face. This article further investigates the merits of applying targeted law enforcement to reduce violence related to drug trafficking in Mexico.

The authors illustrate the failure of the Mexican President Calderon administration (2006–2012) to counter the escalation of violence while fighting “the war on drugs.” They examine violence reduction models that have been locally successful and explore the possibility of establishing the models’ external validity transnationally. Applying targeted enforcement prioritizes drug-related violence over drug flow reduction or organizational (drug cartel) decapitation efforts and would require unprecedented cooperation, for both intelligence and tactical purposes, between the United States and Mexico. The authors explore the promise of this approach and recommend further research and development in the administering and implementing of targeted enforcement models before Mexico considers operationalizing this approach.

The adoption of targeted enforcement in the U.S. would allow Mexican authorities to independently engage in parallel violence reduction efforts along with pursuing other ongoing social reforms. Whether or not the U.S. were to adopt a model of targeted enforcement, a shift in U.S. focus toward violence reduction policies would send a clear message of support to the Mexican government and help to address the incredible violence that is devastating our southern neighbor.

Title: Measuring the Costs of Crime (pdf, 26 pages)
Authors: Mark A.R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Peter Gehred

In this third article in the series, the authors describe the complexity of trying to calculate the costs of crime, and they pose the questions that policymakers should ask when trying to measure the impact of a criminal justice program. Using examples and analogies, the authors discuss how to make good criminal justice policy, which involves trying to quantify the magnitude of the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action and using a common metric (such as dollars) when possible. Frequently, the principal benefit of a policy or program is a reduction in the extent and impact of the targeted problem. However, any analysis of victimization costs must factor in the primary and secondary costs of avoidance behaviors, social hostility, illness/suffering, and residual fear in both the public and private sectors.

For example, the authors demonstrated that the riskiness of an environment is not the same as the frequency of acts of crime committed. Cost estimates of crime must therefore examine the quantities and qualities of crime reduction at hand, such as modest decreases in crime riskiness of the environment and the benefits of reduced precaution and perhaps reduced victimization. Considering the nonlinearity of crime may be just as important as understanding the overall costs of crime. This article focuses on implications of the nonlinearity between illicit drug use and resultant drug crime and how this might affect interventions attempting to reduce both.

Title: Drug Control and Reductions in Drug-Attributable Crime (pdf, 23 pages)
Author: Jonathan P. Caulkins

Two articles in this series explain the two key parameters in calculating the costs of crime: (1) the proportion of crime that is drug-related and (2) the social costs of crime. This article takes the analysis an important step further by noting that the reduction in crime can depend crucially on how the reduction in drug use is achieved. There is no direct correspondence between the quantity of a consumed drug and the amount of drug-related crime that can be traced back to the drug consumption. When a program reduces drug use by a given amount, it may increase, reduce or not change the number of crimes attributable to that drug.

Presumably, cost-effective drug control interventions would be measured in terms of the amount of the drug use averted per $1 million taxpayer dollars invested, which in reality would be difficult to estimate. However, the focus of this article is on the links between drug use and drug-attributable crime and between drug control measures and drug crime, not the link between drug control measures and drug use reduction. The author notes that interventions to control the drug supply are more likely to produce unintended or perverse results (e.g., driving up the price of a drug from its relatively inelastic cost while increasing drug-related crime). However, the author is more optimistic about law enforcement’s potential contribution to reducing drug-related crime — focusing on controlling violence instead of attempting to control the flow of drugs — a crucial but underappreciated distinction.

Title: Managing Drug-Involved Offenders (pdf, 60 pages)
Authors: Angela Hawken, Steven Davenport, Mark A.R. Kleiman

Effectively managing drug-involved offenders is an essential step in reducing crime and drug abuse. Many of the most active criminals and heavily drug-involved offenders are supervised by probation or parole programs and are subject to additional monitoring and discipline. Conversely, drug-using parolees and probationers are disproportionately responsible for both crime and drug abuse in America. Resolving the drug habits of the most chronic criminal offenders and the criminal habits of the most habitual drug abusers may be integral to a successful approach for both. However, supervision programs have largely failed to wean participants off of crime or drugs. Because identifying and punishing violations is a major drain on program resources, most supervision programs have eventually mutated into relatively lax and ineffective systems of control. Court and prison resources are so overcommitted that punishment is meted out after a long delay, losing much of the corrective effect on the violator.

However, innovations based on the Swift and Certain (SAC) testing-and-discipline paradigm, as successfully implemented in Hawaii’s HOPE project, can break this pattern. A phenomenon called “behavioral triage” allows program resources to be allocated to the offenders whose poor behavior most requires them. Quick and efficient identification of egregious offenders — rather than waiting until violations pile up — is combined with swift and consistent punishments, with greater correctional effect. There is some evidence that these programs introduce predictable consequences into the lives of offenders and increase their capacity for self-control. The promise of these programs creates optimism that drug use and incarceration can be reduced, among even heavily drug-involved offenders.

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