In New York City Crime Does Pay

Riker's New York City

Who says crime doesn’t pay? In New York City it does, After all when the average cost of keeping someone locked up at Riker’s Island, New York City’s most famous prison is more than an Ivy League education, someone must be making money.

According to the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO), the annual figure to house one inmate is $167,731 or $460 per day. That’s for each inmate at the jail. In 2012 the average inmate populations was 12,287 at any one time. When you consider that the average apartment in Manhattan studio apartment rents for $1,953 per month, a jail cell, which doesn’t have any of the same amenities costs $13,977. The cost of tuition at a four year private college?  According to it is $127,100 per year.

Where does this money go and why is this cost so much higher than other city jails in the United States? It can certainly be argued that the high rate of crime in New York City is a problem, after all that increases the number of people in jail. One issue is the long wait for prisoners to get to trial. According to the IBO , the average number of prisoners waiting for trial is 76%. According to Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2012 the average wait time was 53 days. Other issues include the age of the prison and the cost of transporting prisoners to court. Certainly these are all problems but not the most expensive ones.

The number which really jumps out is this: 86% of the budget goes towards pensions and salaries. According to the DOC the average salary plus fringe benefits is $137,747 for a correction officer. There are 8,744 correction officers in the city.

This is just one city in the United States but this is a problem with almost every city, town, state or federal agency, the costs of salaries and pensions is collapsing the system. Yes, we can find a way to reduce inmate population, reduce recidivism, streamline the court process and reduce sentences etc. but as long as we continue to pay high salaries and exorbitant benefit packages nothing will change. Even the IBO has recommended cutting the amounts on city contributions to benefit plans for employees and retirees. In 2012 they estimated this would save $497 million. The sooner taxpayers realize they won’t be able to support these unfunded liabilities; the sooner the problem will get fixed.

Couldn’t this money be better spent elsewhere in the city? Couldn’t this money be used to streamline the trial process, implement programs to reduce recidivism, educate prisoners making them productive citizens, starting job programs? Couldn’t the money saved be used for improving mental health programs, combatting homelessness? It could so why isn’t it?

Former City Prison Commissioner, Martin Horn said, “Why doesn’t anything happen? Because nobody cares.”

That quote just about sums it up.

Commentary written by: Paul Roy


Independent Budget Office One, Two

New York City One, Two

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