The city’s chief fiscal watchdog snoozed for three long years while Mayor de Blasio and the city Board of Correction embarked on staggering folly dressed in good intentions, all but ending solitary confinement for city jail inmates who refuse to follow conduct rules. Now that he takes up the cause of closing Rikers Island, setting an aggressive 2020 goal, Controller Scott Stringer rubs his eyes — my goodness! — and discovers that the costs of running city jails have gone through the roof.
The city’s Department of Correction now spends more than $143,000 per inmate on an annual basis, and nearly $271,000 if counting pensions and other benefits for correction officers — $742 for each inmate, every goddamn day. That’s more than double the cost a decade ago. Double the state prison average. Enough for a full four-year Harvard education with room, board and spring break trips thrown in.
And largely attributable, though Stringer can’t bring himself to say so to the criminal justice advocates he’s fawning to please, to de Blasio’s almost complete phaseout of solitary, starting in 2015.
To maintain the barest semblance of order as gang members took advantage of newfound freedom to wreak havoc in the jails, the Department of Correction went on a hiring and overtime binge even as the number of inmates declined, ending up with more correction officers — nearly 11,000 — than the population they now guard.
Or attempt to guard: Cellblocks are now notably more violent, with inmate fights and assaults on staff both increasingly frequent.
In June 2014, this editorial page warned of the inevitable consequences of ending solitary: “The correction system has neither the staffing nor the cellblock designs needed to manage hordes of violently ill criminals.”
Stringer now says closing Rikers is the solution, and maybe so. Meanwhile, he and de Blasio do their cause no favors by dodging accounting for the stunning bill Bill rung up.