Cost-benefit analysis Vs Cost-effectiveness analysis

In the criminal justice filed, cost-effective analysis (CEA) entails a way of examining both the costs and said outcomes of one or more interventions. It compares one intervention to another, where it estimates how much it costs to gain a unit of a given outcome. On the other hand, cost-benefit analysis (CBA) involves an economic tool which compares the costs of investment and benefits in the long run (Bachman & Schutt, 2020).  The hallmark of cost-benefit analysis is that cost and benefits are expressed in monetary terms so that they can be directly compared because the investment effects are expressed in dollars. CBAs enables decisions markets to compare policies and programs which have different purposes and outcomes.

A significant difference between the two is that while a cost-benefit analysis helps in the understanding of a new campaign or project makes financial sense, the cost-effectiveness analysis compares two outcomes based on the relative cost to see which of the two has better opportunities for success. CBA aims to capture the costs and benefits to all parties, which may be affected by a given investment (Johnsøn, 2014). This includes not just the perspectives of the government stakeholders, but also the relevant members of the society. CBAs nevertheless are unable to account for all the perspectives, given the challenge of obtaining data or relevant materials.  CBAs in criminal justice include at least perspectives of taxpayers and crime victims.  When an analysis omits specific perspectives, there is a need for the findings to be explicit about what was excluded and the reason behind the exclusions (Bachman & Schutt, 2020).  Neither CBAs nor CEAs can help in resolving the present evidence gaps and measurement challenges.  Both have limitations, more so with regard to appraisal and evaluation methods.

In most cases, CEA is often used where the benefits are difficult to monetize. It is a tool for selecting among other alternative interventions which target a similar outcome. Its main challenge is to find and compare alternative interventions which pursue similar units of effectiveness.  On the other hand, CBAs establish one financial value estimate for a given intervention which can get compared across various sectors and contexts. Its main challenge is how to monetize benefits (Bachman & Schutt, 2020). Nevertheless, the two methods are mainly valuable as comparative exercises. Whereas the results of CBA can be able to stand alone as an absolute judgment of the return on investment, the CEAs can only judge an intervention which is relative to others.

Both Cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA), take into account the cost as well as the impacts of the programs getting evaluated.  Both have been methods which have to provide useful policy guidance in many sectors, including in the criminal justice field.  They help in informing choices between alternative strategies that can help reach a given policy goal.  They can also be used in providing a basis for judgment on interventions that have worked best-concerning costs.


Justice policymakers in any given criminal system, therefore have to make tough choices with limited resources. They have to settle on either to use CBA or CEAs, as a way of comprehending the costs if programs or policies with the benefits they deliver. For CBAs, a common misconception is that you can perform it by inputting data into a standard set of formulas. Each of the analysis in both CBAS and CEAs ought to be tailored to the type of investment getting studied.


Bachman, R. D., & Schutt, R. K. (2020). The Practice of Research in Criminology and Criminal (7th Edition ed.).

Johnsøn, J. (2014). Cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis of governance and anti-corruption activities.

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