New York City Prison Costs Continue to Rise

New York City Prison Costs Continue to Rise

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer recently released data regarding expenditures in New York City prisons. This report shows that the annual cost to incarcerate one individual in New York City is more than half a million dollars. That is more than four times the cost reported just ten years ago. Despite a decline in prison populations, rising costs mean that New York City is spending more on incarceration than ever before.

The Department of Corrections reports more than $1 billion in annual expenditures for 2021.

According to the NYC Department of Correction report distributed in December 2021, daily jail populations have decreased by more than 60% over the past ten years. New York City jails housed an average of 12,790 individuals per day in 2011. By 2021, that number dropped to an average of 4,961 individuals. However, annual expenditures rose from about $900 million in 2011 to $1.25 billion in 2021.

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Even when factoring for inflation, the rise in expenditures far outpaces the declining population. The picture is even more bleak when one considers that the Department of Corrections moved 17- and 18-year-old individuals to juvenile centers in 2018. This move resulted in a four-year decline in prison population of more than half. Given the move, the drop in annual expenditures is marginal at best.

The report further illustrates a massive increase in daily expenditures for incarcerated individuals. The average daily cost for one individual was $395 in 2011. This factors out to just under $150,000 in annual cost per incarcerated individual. As of 2021, the average daily cost rose to $1,525 per individual. That translates to more than $500,000 per year for every incarcerated individual. More than half of annual expenditures come from non-Department of Corrections costs, such as fringe benefits, pensions and medical services.

While some states struggle to staff prisons, New York City prisons employ more officers than the average daily incarceration rate.

Comptroller Stringer’s report shows that the New York City Department of Corrections has employed more officers than the daily incarceration rate for the past six years. The ratio of corrections officers to incarcerated individuals was 1 to 1 in 2016. As of 2021, that ratio is rougly 1.6 officers per incarcerated individual. While the daily incarcerated population is a little under 5,000 individuals, the Department of Corrections employs over 8,000 corrections officers.

Staffing thousands more officers than New York City jails house is not the only problem. Comptroller Stringer’s report shows increases in overtime for officers as well. The city recorded an average annual overtime cost of $8,900 per incarcerated individual in 2011. By 2021, that cost increased to $30,788 per individual. The city spent roughly $50 million more in overtime in 2021 than it did in 2011. This is alarming given that the city reduced the incarcerated population by more than 8,000 individuals during this time,

New York City prison costs may be increasing, but incarcerated individuals are not any safer.

One of the most alarming things about Comptroller Stringer’s report is that the rising cost of incarcerating individuals does not translate to safer prisons. In fact, reported fights and assaults rose from 581 per 1,000 average daily population in 2011 to 2,260 per 1,000 average daily population. In other words, assaults and fights rose at roughly the same rate as annual expenditures over the past decade.

The picture is worse for assaults on staff. The Department of Corrections reported 42 assaults on staff per 1,000 average daily population in 2011. For 2021, that number spiked at 235.2 assaults on staff per 1,000 average daily population.

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Higher rates of violence correlate with an almost unbelievable increase in use of force reports and allegations. According to the report, there were 178 reported or alleged use of force interactions per 1,000 average daily population in 2011. For 2021, the Department of Corrections logged 1,561 reported or alleged use of force interactions per 1,000 average daily population.

Comptroller Stringer expressed his frustration with the outcomes illustrated by the report. “The City is spending more and more to incarcerate fewer and fewer individuals – yet the numbers show that rates of violence and use of force in our jail system are substantially increasing,” he said of the numbers. “As the jail system continues to shrink and yield significant savings, the City should use these resources to leverage better all-around outcomes. We need to invest in a humane, modern, and efficient corrections system that keeps our incarcerated population as small as possible while prioritizing safety and security.”

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