City pays $270G a year per in­mate in hell­hole

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERIN DURKIN

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.

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