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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NYC Comptroller Eyes Wasted Funds at Rikers

(CN) - Inflating the budget for New York City jails and reducing the number of inmates has not ebbed the flow of violence, the comptroller reported.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced Friday that the number of inmates held in city jails has dropped by 18 percent since 2007, but the Department of Correction budget is on the rise.

Indeed, the annualized cost per inmate has increased over 42 percent in just seven years - from $67,565 to $96,232 - Stringer's analysis found.

"The high cost of failure in our city jails has become too expensive for New Yorkers to ignore," Stringer said in a stateemtn. "In an era of declining crime and detention, violence and costs at city jails should be decreasing. Instead, past leadership at the Department of Correction allowed jail conditions for correction officers and inmates to degenerate."

For Stringer, the increased spending is incongruous to the rate of fight or assault infractions in city jails, which has risen 65 percent since 2007 - from 470 infractions per 1,000 average daily population (ADP) to 774 per thousand this year.

Inmate assaults on staff have also climbed by 124 percent - from 31.6 to 70.8 assaults per 1,000 ADP, while allegations of the use of force by correction officers on inmates has nearly tripled, according to the report.

What has dropped in recent years is the number of correction officers - from 9,203 to 8,922 - but the inmate-reduction rate still exceeds that 3 percent drop, the report says.

Indeed the ratio of correction officers to inmates has risen 19 percent, from 0.66 to 0.78 officers per inmate - Stringer found.

"We're talking about an agency that is out of control as it relates to its management and budget priorities," Stringer told The New York Times on the eve of his report's release. "It's a drain on the city and a travesty to taxpayers."

Meanwhile, agencywide overtime costs have escalated from $101 million in 2007 to a record $155 million in 2013, before dropping to $139 million this year, the analysis states.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley oversees corrections for the city and told the Times that she has "always connected [overtime] to the rise in violence and an overworked and stressed-out staff."

Stringer's report shows that New York City's average inmate costs are more than twice as high as comparable cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami.

"These numbers show very clearly that what the Correction Department is doing isn't working," Stringer told the Times. "We're spending more money on inmates and we're getting worse results."

The comptroller reported that a task force that Mayor Bill de Blasio formed in June aims to transform the city's criminal justice system, including conditions at Rikers Island and other jails.

"It is my hope that this new analysis can provide Correction leadership and the Task Force with the tools they need to assess potential avenues for reform," Stringer said. "We need to marshal every resource at our disposal to uproot the culture of violence in the city's jails and engage stakeholders from across the country to identify and implement best practices here at home."

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