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Report: To Calculate True Financial Cost Of Crime, Don't Forget The Victims

The High Cost of Recidivism

A new report is trying to calculate a more realistic tally of what crime costs in Illinois.

The report looks at recidivism — that is, people who get out of prison and are convicted of a new crime. That happens to nearly half of Illinois' inmates within three years of getting out.

In "The High Cost of Recidivism," the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council estimates the problem will cost more than $13 billion over the next five years.

Council executive director Kathryn Saltmarsh says that figure goes beyond traditional measures, like how much Illinois spends on prisons and police.

“If we want to know the true cost of crime … you have to look at victimizations," Saltmarsh says. "You have to account for crimes that aren’t reported. You have to account for more esoteric economic measures that essentially recognize that a dollar spent on prison is a dollar not available for something else that people may valuer more highly.”

Saltmarsh says about half the cost of crime is borne by victims. That includes not just tangible things like stolen property, medical bills, and lost wages; but also intangible costs like pain and suffering.

Saltmarsh says even a modest reduction in the recidivism rate could save billions of dollars over the next decade.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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