The top story on the front page of Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer was disconcerting:
No one protested when a federal jury recommended in June that Kaboni Savage be put to death.
In just a few years, Savage had left a grisly trail in North Philadelphia. He gunned down one man, ordered the killing of five others, and directed the 2004 rowhouse firebombing that killed four children and two women.
The cocaine, PCP, and other drugs he peddled poisoned families, enticed boys into crime, and kept neighborhoods in decay.
According to the Inquirer, a police official once called Savage “pure evil.” He was convicted of 12 murders. The Inquirer wrote:
None was as tragic as the firebombing of the North Sixth Street house occupied by the family of Eugene Coleman, once a close friend and confidant of Savage’s who had agreed to testify against him.
Just before 5 a.m. Oct. 9, 2004, an enforcer enlisted by Savage doused the Coleman family house with gasoline, pumped gunshots up the stairs, and tossed in a lit gas can. The blaze killed Coleman’s 54-year-old mother, Marcella, and his 15-month old son, Damir Jenkins; a cousin, 34-year-old Tameka Nash; and Nash’s 10-year-old daughter, Khadjah, plus two other children, Tahj Porchea, 12, and Sean Rodriguez, 15.
Savage was in federal custody at the time, but in secret recordings played repeatedly for jurors, agents overheard him cackling and joking about the fire, and vowing to kill the mothers and children of all the “rats” who betrayed him.
“That’s all I dream about – killing rats,” he told his girlfriend in one call from prison.
I think it’s fair to assume that this man is a psychopath. But yesterday’s story wasn’t about the criminal. It was about the shocking cost of prosecuting him — more than $10 million. Some of the itemized expenses:
- Court-appointed lawyers for Savage and his co-defendants — $3.3 million
- Per-diem payments and travel expenses for prospective jurors — $325,000
- Juror lunches and snacks — $24,000
- Transcripts — $249,000
- Additional travel and security by the Marshals Service — $283,000
- Cost of imprisoning Kaboni Savage — $31,000 per year
So prosecuting one psychopath cost more than $10 million. At that rate, what do all psychopaths cost society?
The cost of crime
Kent A. Kiehl, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of New Mexico, and Morris B. Hoffman, district judge in the Second Judicial District, Denver, Colorado, came up with an estimate.
Kiehl and Hoffman authored a paper called The Criminal Psychopath: history, neuroscience, treatment and economics [51 Jurimetrics J. 355–397 (2011)] In it, they estimate that psychopaths are responsible for approximately $460 billion per year in criminal social costs.
How did they arrive at this figure?
They started with the work of David A. Anderson of the University of Chicago. Anderson wrote an article in 1999 called The Aggregate Burden of Crime. He estimated that crime costs society $1.7 trillion per year (in 1997 dollars).
Anderson’s estimate included police protection, corrections, prosecution, lost workdays, medical costs of gun violence, deterrence, crime prevention, implicit psychic and health costs, opportunity costs (time spent preventing, carrying out, and serving prison terms for criminal activity).
After presenting all his research, Anderson concluded:
As criminals acquire an estimated $603 billion worth of assets from their victims, they generate an additional $1,102 billion worth of lost productivity, crime-related expenses, and diminished quality of life. The net loses represent an annual per capita burden of $4,118. Including transfers, the aggregate burden of crime is $1,705 billion. In the United States, this is of the same order of magnitude as life insurance purchases ($1,680 billion), the outstanding mortgage debt to commercial banks and savings institutions ($1,853 billion), and annual expenditures on health ($1,038 billion). [Figures are 1997 dollars.]
Kiehl and Hoffman converted Anderson’s figure of $1.7 trillion in 1997 dollars to 2009 dollars. They say the social cost of crime is now $2.3 trillion.
Crime by psychopaths
Kiehl and Hoffman estimated how much of that crime was being committed by psychopaths. According to the authors, “Though psychopaths make up roughly 1% of the general male adult population, they make up between 15% and 25% of the males incarcerated in North American prison systems.”
If we assume 20% of the males in prison are psychopaths and that a similar percentage is involved in nonfelony offenses, and if we ignore the relatively small contributions of women offenders to this overall number, psychopaths alone are responsible for approximately $460 billion per year in criminal social costs.
By way of comparison, here are the estimated annual costs of other social problems:
- Alcohol and substance abuse — $329 billion
- Obesity — $200 billion
- Smoking — $172 billion
- Schizophrenia — $76 billion
Estimate is low
This cost of crime figure — $460 billion — is actually low, for three reasons.
First of all, Kiehl and Hoffman say it does not include the costs of psychopaths in psychiatric hospitals, and indirect costs such as the emotional suffering and treatment of victims.
Secondly, Kiehl and Hoffman are only including men who would be diagnosed as psychopaths, and they take great pains to differentiate psychopathy from antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). The diagnostic criteria for psychopathy are more stringent than the criteria for ASPD. Kiehl and Hoffman say 20% of male prisoners are psychopaths, but 85% of all prisoners suffer from antisocial personality disorder.
Finally, Kiehl and Hoffman did not include juveniles and women.
Most people who commit crime are probably disordered in some way. Still, even the figure of $2.3 trillion as the social cost of crime may be low. Does it include all the unethical and immoral acts of people with personality disorders — like wiping out their spouse’s savings and running up their credit cards? I doubt it, because these actions, technically, are not illegal.
The point is, disordered individuals create huge costs, in real dollars, to society and everyone in it. Perhaps it’s time that we learned these dangerous social predators exist.