PHOTO: City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s latest jail analysis revealed that last year’s problems are growing, with taxpayers actually footing larger bills for fewer inmates. Photo Courtesy of flickr/The Network
Rising violence and escalating expenditures are still the main problems plaguing city jails—and it seems to be getting worse, according to an analysis released last week by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The study’s findings, made public last Friday, also indicate that taxpayers are spending more money on fewer inmates.
“There is definitely something wrong with this picture: the jail population in New York City is the lowest in thirty-one years, but the rate of violent incidents is accelerating at an alarming pace,” Stringer said. “At the same time, the Department of Correction is pouring huge amounts of money into this problem, but we aren’t seeing any real results or improvements. We need to find ways to protect both guards and inmates, while at the same time making sure that the substantial resources being spent on this problem aren’t simply wasted.”
The comptroller’s analysis showed that:
The average daily number of inmates held in the city’s jails declined by 10 percent in Fiscal Year 2015, compared to FY14, to a 31-year low of 10,240.
At the same time, the Department of Correction’s spending continued to rise, Stringer said. As a result, the annual cost per inmate reached $112,665, an increase of 17 percent over the FY14 cost. This was the largest yearly percentage increase in at least three decades, according to the report.
Despite the substantial increase in spending, city jails have become more dangerous in recent years, with the rate of fight/assault infractions increasing 19 percent in FY15.
Assaults committed by inmates on staff rose 46 percent in FY15. And incidents and allegations of the use of force by uniformed employees on inmates increased by 27 percent in FY2015.
Stringer noted that the city’s costs per inmate are more than twice as high as a number of other large cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles County, Cook County, and Miami-Dade County.
Asked to comment on the analysis, de Blasio administration spokeswoman Monica Klein said, “Commissioner [Joe] Ponte is aggressively combating violence in our jails, as demonstrated by clear reductions in violence in the areas where his targeted reforms have taken hold and a decline in the most severe uses of force. A higher officer-to-inmate ratio and classes like workforce development—both of which require more staff—are squarely aimed at reducing violence on the island and providing inmates with the tools they need to live a more productive life once they leave. Meaningful reform takes time, and we are confident the commissioner is creating safer and more supportive jails for our staff and inmates alike—even as DOC grapples with an increasingly difficult population.”
That increasingly difficult population is a changing one. The percentage of inmates with a mental health diagnosis has also been on the rise for years as well, according to the administration, and rose to 41 percent in FY15, compared to 38 percent in FY 14. Additionally, in FY15, the percentage of DOC inmates with gang affiliations increased to 11.8 percent, from 8.2 percent in FY14.
The administration also contested that these are not sudden, dramatic spikes in violence and expenditures. Both costs and violence have been rising steadily since 2008—well before de Blasio and Ponte’s tenure, the Mayor’s Office pointed out.
By Michael V. Cusenza firstname.lastname@example.org