How to Calculate the Cost of a Youth Arrest

Growing budget shortfalls have intensified policymakers’ interest in crafting cost-effective policies for youth in trouble with the law. Determining the costs associated with each stage of the juvenile justice process is a critical part of these efforts. This toolkit focuses on calculating costs at the point of arrest, a youth’s first official contact with the justice system. While we recommend that reformers first attempt to obtain this information directly from relevant jurisdictions, there will be situations where it is unavailable, incomplete, or an independent calculation may be useful.

The FPC recognizes that there are many variables to consider and methods to calculate the cost of arrest as one aspect of a law enforcement agency’s operations, and that practitioners may use other methods, based on the availability of information and other local factors. In this toolkit, the FPC proposes a straightforward approach to approximate the cost of an arrest. This approach provides reformers with a simple formula that produces consistent, accurate, and conservative results. How simple is it? Just multiply a law enforcement officer’s average hourly rate (including benefits, support costs, and overhead costs) by the average number of hours it takes to arrest a youth. It’s that easy.

In the sections that follow, we will use budget data for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in order to walk the reader through how to locate budget information, calculate an officer’s average hourly rate, determine the number of hours per arrest, and, finally, estimate the cost of arrest.

(From Models For Change)

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