Earlier this week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the latest data from its periodic national surveys of prosecutors’ offices. The report contains a lot of interesting information (albeit perhaps a bit dated — the survey was from 2007).
The number that struck me the most was $2,792 — what BJS reported as the cost per felony prosecution in large jurisdictions. This seems to me a remarkably low number in light of the very high stakes in a felony prosecution, both for the defendant and the community (incarceration costs, for instance, may average in the neighborhood of $30,000 per inmate per year). Is $2,792 in prosecutorial costs really enough to ensure reliable decisionmaking at the charging and adjudication stages of a criminal case? For the cost of a family vacation to Disney World, we are deciding to send people to prison for five, ten, twenty years or more?
From the standpoint of private litigation practice anyway, this would be an awfully small legal bill. Admittedly, the comparison is problematic in many respects, but I don’t think it entirely irrelevant.
To be sure, the $2,792 both overstates and understates the costs in important ways.