UDPATE 1-New index finds heavy economic toll of US violence

* Costs range widely among U.S. states, study finds

* California, Texas and Florida take greatest economic hit

* New England is most peaceful U.S. region
(Adds quote from lawmaker, paragraphs 8-9)

By Scott Malone

BOSTON, April 6 (Reuters) – Violence takes a heavy toll on
U.S. state economies, but the burden varies widely, with the
most violent states losing tens billions of dollars compared
with hundreds of millions in the most peaceful ones, according
to a study released on Wednesday.

Populous and violent states, including California, Texas
and Florida, suffer the greatest costs. They spend far more on
medical care and prisons, as well as having lower productivity
than do smaller and safer states, including Vermont, North
Dakota and Maine, according to the U.S. Peace Index compiled by
the Institute for Economics and Peace.

The project — modeled on the not-for-profit group’s annual
Global Peace Index — ranks the relative peacefulness of the 50
U.S. states by factors including rates of homicide and other
violent crime, the number of people imprisoned, the number of
police officers and the availability of guns.

Reducing violence could save hundreds of millions to
billions of dollars in government spending each year —
critical at a time when many state governments are coping with
budget crises, said Steve Killelea, the Australian entrepreneur
who founded the institute.

“If you build a highway rather than a jail … that has
effects which enable a stronger and more competitive business
environment,” Killelea said in a phone interview. “Similarly,
if you employ teachers rather than prison guards, you’re
investing in the future and creating a long term more
competitive economy.”

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For a related factbox, click [ID:N0144524]

For a related graphic, click http://r.reuters.com/zyh88r

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The Institute, which has offices in New York and Sydney,
does not offer recommendations on how to reduce violence,
aiming only to quantify the problem.

Its estimates of the economic cost of violence include both
direct costs, including hospital and prison spending, as well
as indirect costs such as the lost productivity of injured or
killed victims as well as that of their imprisoned attackers.
It calculates that violence costs the U.S. economy some $271.74
billion a year.

Preventing those losses could be particuarly helpful given
the current battle in Washington to trim the nation’s rising
budget deficit, one lawmaker said.

“The unfortunate tendency for many in America to pursue
policies that primarily react to violence, not aim to prevent
it,” said Representatitve Michael Honda, a California Democrat.
“A peace dividend is possible, but primarily through policies
that prioritize equal opportunity, health, education and
poverty alleviation.”

LOUISIANA MOST VIOLENT, MAINE LEAST

The most violent states were Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada,
Florida and Alabama, with high levels of violent crime, large
percentages of their population in jail and wide availability
of guns.

Their per-capita costs related to violence led the nation,
with Louisiana losing about four times as much from violence
per person as Maine, which was the most peaceful state.

The states with the highest overall economic burden related
to violence were California, which bears some $65.96 billion in
costs per year; Texas, at $42.24 billion; and Florida, with
$37.32 billion. Those states’ large populations and economies
pushed them to the top of the ranking.

The lowest tolls are in Vermont, which loses $505.5 million
to violence each year; North Dakota, which loses $549 million;
and South Dakota, which loses $810.2 million.

Around the nation, low levels of violence were closely
related to higher levels of education. But New England’s strong
showing did not necessarily reflect its cluster of top
universities, with the educational achievement most closely
linked to low levels of violence the completion of high
school.

Low levels of violence also closely correlated with other
measures of higher quality of life, including lower levels of
poverty, access to health insurance and lower infant mortality
rates. The study did not attempt to answer the question of
whether those factors were a cause or a symptom of lower levels
of violence, Killelea said.
(Reporting by Scott Malone)

UDPATE 1-New index finds heavy economic toll of US violence