Around $9.3 billion was spent in Canada in 2005 to employ 62,458 police officers, at a cost of about $288 per Canadian (Reitano 2006). Prisons and penitentiaries are also very costly. Incarcerating one adult male in a federal institution in Canada for one year costs anywhere from $71 640 to $110 223; incarcerating an adult woman costs up to $150,867 each year (Correctional Service Canada 2005). As for youth, the financial cost to society of a young person in contact with the law - including costs to the child welfare and young offender systems - is estimated to be at least $511,500 by the time the youth is 17 years old (National Crime Prevention Strategy 2000). These costs are quite substantial and do not provide taxpayers with any long-term financial benefits. Furthermore, there is little evidence to show that increasing the number of police officers to conduct standard policing activities will actually reduce crime (Skogan 2004).
Prevention programs that address risk and protective factors for crime, on the other hand, have successfully reduced crime and at a much lower cost than adding more police officers or incarcerating more offenders (Sherman et al. 1997 and 2002; Waller, Sansfaçon, & Welsh 1999). For example, to reduce serious crime by 10%, you can either help at-risk youth complete high school through a program like “Quantum Opportunities”, or spend over 7 times more in tax dollars per household to put more people behind bars for a longer period of time (Waller, Sansfaçon & Welsh 1999).
Source : ICPC. Digest II, 1999
Preventing crime before it happens therefore costs much less than reacting to it. Every dollar spent towards prevention will also eventually provide society with other important returns (Waller, Sansfaçon, & Welsh 1999). The cost-benefits of crime prevention include reduced dependence on the social welfare and child welfare systems, increased tax revenues generated from additional employment, important savings to health care, and increased post secondary enrolment, to name a few (Waller et al. 1999; World Health Organization 2002). For example, for every dollar invested in the Perry Preschool program, there was a return of $17.07 to the public and participants through increased education and employment earnings, and cost savings related to crime and welfare (Schweinhart 2004).
Although the focus here is on financial benefits, crime prevention also provides substantial collateral social benefits by supporting children and youth to successfully complete school, seek gainful employment, and assume responsible parenting roles, for example (Waller et al. 1999; Waller, Sansfaçon & Welsh 1999). By investing in the well being of children, youth, families and neighbourhoods, crime prevention can also reduce the social costs of crime on victims and reduce the damaging effects of becoming involved with the criminal justice system and being incarcerated (UN ECOSOC 2002).