British Journal of Criminology vol:53 issue:5 pages:864-885
In both the scientific and public debates, crime has traditionally been considered a harm in its own right, with few attempts to distinguish the consequences of one criminal activity from another. More recently, policy-makers in a number of countries have resolved to use harm-based approaches to prioritize and target criminal activities, especially organized criminal activities.
Notwithstanding the growing policy interest, assessing the harms of crimes continues to present substantial conceptual and technical challenges, largely involving matters of morality, subjectivity, causality, standardization, quantification, and incommensurability. In response to these challenges, we have developed an analytical framework with which to address at least some of them. The framework draws together a business model of criminal activities, a taxonomy of the types and bearers of harms, scales for ranking the severity and incidence of harms, and a matrix for prioritizing harms in a multistep assessment process. We also identify the different policy goals that the harm assessment framework can serve. Our conclusions are two-fold: it may be possible to reliably evaluate the harms of criminal activities, as our examples suggest, but it is not possible—for both conceptual and technical reasons—to develop an encompassing estimate of the total harms of these activities.