NYC Department of Corrections Continued Noncompliance to Consent Decree and Spending Nearly Half A Million Dollars Per Prisoner in 2020
A report accompanying the listing said the annual cost to house prisoners in New York City’s county jail on Rikers Island was $447,337 per prisoner (including expenses for employee fringe benefits and pensions and health care services provided by other agencies). It stated the cost per prisoner was steadily going up although total population in the DOC has been decreasing since 2010. In addition, it said the incidents of violence had nearly doubled in the past two years despite a 14-point plan the DOC was court ordered to implement after a lawsuit over such violence.
“The cost to incarcerate a single individual on Rikers has exploded even as our jail population remains near historic lows—yet rates of violence continue to climb,” stated city comptroller Scott Stringer. “That means we are spending more and more money to incarcerate fewer and fewer people and reducing the safety of both officers and people in custody in the process. We must reimagine our criminal legal system, dramatically reduce the pretrial population, and invest our taxpayer dollars in resources and programs—from housing to healthcare—that prevent incarceration in the first place.”
The report said the DOC budget decreased 7% from 2017 to 2020, and is expected to decrease an additional 11% in 2021. Population at Rikers also decreased during this period from 14,000 to 6,000 prisoners and has further decreased due to COVID-19 protocols to an average daily population of 4,000. It said because population was decreasing so much quicker than the budget, the average daily cost to house prisoners had dramatically increased in that same time period. New York City spent an average of $336,343 for each prisoner held in jail on Rikers in 2015. This included medical, housing, food, staffing, etc. That cost jumped to $447,337 in 2020.
The report said the DOC now employed approximately 1.6 guards for each prisoner in the system. Workforce reductions brought that headcount down from 11,000 in 2017 to 9,000 in 2020 and further reductions are expected in 2021 to bring the total to 7,000. However, the count remained at 8,871 the end of November, 2020, only 3% of the 23% reduction the DOC was aiming for this year and dropping slower than overall prison population, increasing the guard to prisoner ratio and total costs for housing. “The rate of incidents and allegations of use of force has also grown sharply, nearly doubling from FY 2018 to FY 2020,” said Stringer.
Incidents of violence both against prisoners and guards have also been on the rise. The number of assaults and fighting infractions increased by 27% from 2019 to 2020, violence among the jail population by 16%, assaults on staff by 26%, and use of force incidents by 36%.
In 2015 the DOC was court ordered to comply with a Consent Decree and Remedial Order 14-point plan implemented to address the agency’s extravagant number of use of force incidents and lack of accountability accusations. The report said the DOC initially showed strides toward stabilizing the violet atmosphere in the prisons, but this only lasted temporarily and violence was once again on the rise.
The Nunez Independent Monitor, which is the independent court-appointed entity mandated in Nunez v. City of New York, USDC SD NY, Case No. 11 CV 5845, is quoted as reporting, “The City and Department have established a record of non-compliance in the most fundamental goals of the Consent Judgment, most especially regarding the use of force and accountability for violations of these requirements .... as we move into the fifth year of monitoring, it is critical to acknowledge that if the DOC is unable to achieve demonstrable gains with the requirements of both the Consent Judgment and Remedial Order that this overall approach to achieving sustainable and substantial compliance must be reexamined as the effort by all may have been exhausted.”
Reform advocates have taken steps recently in New York City to defund the police and restructure the criminal justice system. Stringer, who is running against Bill de Blasio this year for Mayor, said if elected he would close the jail facilities in Rikers immediately. Lawmakers have already signed a bill a few years back which had the entire facility closing in 2026.
Sources: comptroller.nyc.gov, Nunez v. City of N.Y., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70812 (S.D.N.Y. May 17, 2013).
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