City pays $270G a year per inmate in hellhole
THE CITY JAIL budget has exploded to an all-time high during the de Blasio administration — with the average annual total cost of housing a single inmate topping $270,000, a new report has found.
The city shelled out $1.36 billion to run Rikers Island and its other jails in the 2017 fiscal year — a 44% jump since 2007.
The skyrocketing costs come as the number of inmates has dropped to the lowest point in over three decades — an average of 9,500 a day, the analysis by city Controller Scott Stringer found.
“We need a smart, modern, and fair corrections system. Right now, the inmate population is at its lowest point in decades, but costs continue to rise dramatically. An extraordinary decline in inmates should yield cost savings and better all-around outcomes — not dramatic spending increases. That’s what’s so alarming about the numbers,” Stringer said.
It now costs the city a whopping $143,130 a year to keep each detainee in jail — more than double the price over the last decade.
When other costs that aren’t part of the Department of Correction budget, like medical services, pensions and fringe benefits, are included, the cost jumps to $270,876. That adds up to $742 per inmate per day. That’s a 49% hike since 2014, the year de Blasio took office, when the average total cost per inmate was $182,809 a year, or $499 per inmate per day.
The sky high prices are more than double the average cost in New York State and nationally.
According to a Vera Institute of Justice study, New York’s state prison spending came out to $69,355 per inmate in 2015. In California, the number was $64,642, which The Associated Press reported is expected to reach $75,560 next year, the highest of any state system.
Even though correction employs 10,862 uniformed officers — more than the number of inmates for a second year in a row — overtime payments have remained high. The city spent an average of $28,045 in overtime for every inmate in 2017. That’s up from $12,189 per inmate in fiscal year 2014. “We have to do better,” Stringer (photo inset) said. “We’re putting far more money into far fewer inmates. It’s one of the many reasons that I believe we need to close Rikers on a quick timeline and take a 21st century approach to criminal justice.” Experts pointed a finger at Rikers and other aging city jails as being the prime reason for the high costs. Martin Horn, a
former city correction commissioner who is now a lecturer at John Jay College, said running a massive jail complex on a remote island is expensive no matter how many people are locked up there.
“There are a lot of costs generated by the isolation on Rikers Island,” he said. “You’ve got to operate the power plant, you’ve got to operate the buses that run around the island, you’ve got to operate the perimeter security.”
Mayor de Blasio has also poured big bucks into new programs to keep detainees busy in hopes of turning around the notoriously violent jails.
“The mayor has, ever since he came into office, devoted an enormous amount of resources, far in excess of anything that was done before,” Horn said.
Insha Rahman, a project director at the Vera Institute of Justice, noted more modern facilities arrange cells so they need fewer officers.
“Every single one of (the city jails) is old, and they are built in this old style of jails with long hallways of cells,” she said. “We’re just stuck with that. There’s no way to get around that short of demolishing the jails.”
De Blasio has pledged to close Rikers in a decade, while Stringer says it can — and should — be done faster.
All the spending has not added up to safer jails, Stringer found.
There were 1,332 fight and assault infractions per 1,000 average daily population in 2017, up 16% from the year before.
The rate of inmate assaults on staff went up 6%, while use of force by correction officers fell 1%.
“They’ve hired more. They’ve spent a lot more on security,” said Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission. “It doesn’t mean it’s being done in the most efficient and effective way.”
There’s high turnover among correction officers, which also drives up costs. “There’s a lot of money being spent on overtime, because they have unfilled slots, and also training,” she said. “It’s driven by labor costs.”
A de Blasio spokeswoman defended their efforts, and insisted there has been improvement.
“We’re proud of our success in reducing the jail population, and we’re proud of the reforms that have made Rikers safer for staff and inmates,” said the rep, Natalie Grybauskas.
“Our investments in safety and skills development for staff and inmates cost money but have been key in improving conditions in our jails.”
Rikers cellblocks (left and below) have fewer inmates but costs are up 49% in last three years.