West Virginia Law Review

Document Type



The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, generally known as the Wickersham Commission, is popularly associated with prohibition, as critic, protagonist, propagandist, or apologist, depending upon the point of view. The more fundamental aspects of its work have escaped popular attention. The first two reports dealt with the problem of national prohibition. Twelve more were devoted to other phases of crime and its treatment. Here attention is to be devoted to the Report on the Cost of Crime in an effort to determine the economic burden through taxation, private expenditures, and economic loss which results from the necessity of suppressing crime and correcting the criminal in modern society? The tremendous scope of this project is apparent to the most casual observer. Innumerable jurisdictions throughout the states are attempting, each in its own way with varying costs and equally varying success, to eliminate crime. The sheer expense of this effort must be a matter of wide concern. The determination of the cost of the administration of criminal justice reveals little aside from the approximate drain upon economic resources due to the perversity of humanity. It indicates, moreover, little of importance with regard to the absolute or even the comparative effectiveness of the governmental agency which happens to be the object of the expenditure. The infinite variety of conditions, not alone throughout the states, but even among the cities of the same state, makes practically barren any attempt to match against each other the cost elements of different jurisdictions. Such comparisons reveal only resultant conditions, but the causal factors are beclouded with influences beyond the application of statistical methods. To imply in variations of expense definite elements of causation would require that all factors be reduced to a basis of absolute equality. This is not possible. The degree of effectiveness of the discharge of governmental functions must, therefore, be measured in some other way. Cheap government is not necessarily good government, nor is costly government necessarily inefficient. False economy often masquerades as efficiency. The attempt to determine cost is limited to the measurement of what the "crime bill" of the nation is. Whether to accomplish the desired result it should be more or less than present figures show is quite another matter. The purpose of this paper is to assemble and present the elements of criminal cost which bear upon the State of West Virginia. The present writers co6perated with the directors of the national investigation of the cost of crime in studying conditions in certain municipalities of the State. At this time the results, hardly to be termed conclusions, are presented, together with other pertinent material which has been taken from the extensive national report. At the risk of incurring justifiable criticism for exaggerating the implications of these statistics, it is suggested that further study along these lines may contribute to a better planned and more effective administration of criminal justice in the wider field of social benefit in the State of West Virginia.

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Criminal Law Commons



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