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October 19, 2021

How much does a murder cost? Try $17.3M: study

Last month, when members of a California law enforcement group suggested marijuana should be legalized in the state to free up funds to better fight violent crimes, the Conservative world balked.

282243_gun_1 It was an understandable stance in many ways – everyone wants more violent crime prevention, though by these measures?  – yet maybe some of those right-leaners might sway a little given this recent study:

According to a new report from the Journal of Criminal Justice (JCJ), violent crimes now have a measurable economic cost, and it’s not pretty. For instance, a murder, by the numbers tallied here, can cost society as much as $17.3 million.

Now, before you go scoffing at such a figure, the beauty in that number is how the JCJ got there.

The journal, in association with Iowa State University researchers, sampled the circumstances surrounding thousands of convicted and penalized crimes – including 654 murders – and measured their monetary value to society, start to finish.

So, the cost of a homicide, for example, doesn’t stop at the actual killing and how much it is to scrape a body off the pavement, but rather continues until all the subsidiary costs of the crime come to a close, even if that may be decades down the road.

The JCJ breaks down the cost of a violent crime, then, like so: how much it costs the justice system to prosecute; how much it costs the correction system to rehabilitate the crime’s offender; how much economic productivity is lost by said offender; how much is lost in victim costs – lost economic productivity, government-funded rehab, etc.; and how much has been spent on what the JCJ calls the “willingness to pay,” which is described as the cost of all the preventative measures used – law enforcement, anti-violence campaigns or whatever they may be – in the attempt to keep violent crimes from happening.

A long-winded, at-times-vague explanation, to be sure, but the study’s conclusion yields us no shortage of interesting results.

By the sample crimes used, a murder – from the crime to the jail time and everything in between – costs its society a whopping $17.3 million when it’s all said and done.

A rape, according to the JCJ, costs $449,000; an armed robbery - $336,000; an aggravated assault - $145,000; a burglary - $41,000.

Staggering, huh?

Let’s go back to that murder figure quick. Seventeen point three million dollars per. While that estimate is whopping compared to other violent crimes, you might even argue it should be higher.

How much, say, does it cost a neighbourhood in depressed home prices when murders stack up in one part of town? Or what about when retailers pick up shop and leave the area? Maybe a particularly bad string of crimes causes a few corporate offices or manufacturing plants to downsize, shutter or relocate, putting locals out of work. What then? How do you measure that cost?

Perhaps $17.3 million per killing is a rather Conservative estimate, after all.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...