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Estimated Costs to the Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System Resulting From the Opioid Crisis

Gary Zajac, PhD; Samaan Aveh Nur, BA; Derek A. Kreager, PhD; and Glenn Sterner, PhD
The analysis presented here represents an initial attempt to estimate the costs of the opioid epidemic on the operations of the CJS at the state level in a single state. It remains unclear whether the specific findings reported here are representative of the states more generally, as each state’s CJS operates differently. For example, the court system in Pennsylvania is operated and funded at the state level, but in other states (eg, Texas), it is more of state/county hybrid, which would have different ramifications for cost estimation. In terms of policing, Pennsylvania is 1 of about a dozen states in which state police provide policing coverage to local units of government that do not have their own police forces. In Pennsylvania, this amounts to state police coverage of approximately two-thirds of all municipalities, and more than 90% of rural municipalities.14 In the remainder of states, coverage of municipalities without their own police departments falls upon county sheriffs. Again, the implications for the type of cost analysis conducted in this report would be considerable. Turning to corrections, although most states maintain a distinction between state prisons and county jails, a few states, such as Rhode Island, have a combined state and local corrections system, thus cost estimation would proceed under a somewhat different set of assumptions than what we used here. Conducting an opioid-related cost estimation would require an approach tailored to the public administrative structure of each state, but it is our hope that our overall approach can serve as a template for such cost estimation in the CJSs in other states.

Regarding the issue of cost estimation at the local level, the concerns we have noted in this report regarding data availability and quality at the state level are amplified when considering the local CJSs nationwide. Looking at policing, approximately

18,000 police agencies exist in the United States, most of which are small-town departments that employ fewer than 10 officers.15 Their arrest activities are of course reflected in UCR, but with the caveats noted earlier. Local corrections consist principally of county-level jails and probation departments (although some states, such as Arkansas and Massachusetts, operate probation at the state level). The challenges of accessing data on all of their correctional caseflows would be very large.16 Because of the heavily local and fragmented nature of the criminal justice system, a considerable effort would be required to estimate opioid-related costs at the local level across the nation. 

Author affiliations: The Pennsylvania State University (GZ, SN, DAK, GE).
Funding: This project was supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the project “Estimation of Societal Costs to States Due to Opioid Epidemic” as well as by a Strategic Planning Implementation award from the Penn State University Office of the Provost, “Integrated Data Systems Solutions for Health Equity.”
Author disclosure: Dr Sterner reports to have received grants from the National Institutes of Justice, US Department of Justice, and the Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and receiving honoraria from the Georgia Pacific Company, and the US Department of Agriculture.
Authorship information: Concept and design (GZ, DAK, GS); acquisition of data (GZ, SN); analysis and interpretation of data (GZ, SN, DAK, GS); drafting of the manuscript (GZ, SN, DAK, GS); critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content (GZ, SN, DAK, GS); statistical analysis (SN, DAK); obtaining funding (GZ, GS); administrative, technical, or logistic support (GZ, GS); supervision (GZ, DAK).
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