NYC Cost Per Inmate Almost Equals Ivy League Education; $167,731 Per Prisoner

The spending on jails in New York City is nearly equivalent to the cost of attending an Ivy League university.

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New York City spends over $160,000 per inmate--almost as much as it costs to go to an Ivy League university, the Associated Press notes.

New York City’s Independent Budget Office recently released data showing that the cost per inmate in the city is $167,731, or $460 per day for the 12,287 people locked up in jails. Those costs far outpace other cities’ spending on prisoners. Much of the cost can be attributed to Rikers Island, a jail near LaGuardia Airport that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to run. But some of the costs are also the result of unionized corrections officers getting paid well.

The Department of Corrections spends over $30 million on transportation costs related to Rikers Island jail. The prison shuttles prisoners back and forth from the island to courts and also pays for transportation for staff to get from a parking lot to the jails.

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Former New York City Corrections Commissioner Martin Horn says that one way to bring down the costs is to stop putting so many people in Riker’s and shift inmates to jails near courthouses in Brooklyn and Manhattan. But local residents there have opposed those plans. “We want these guys put away out of public view,” Horn told the AP.

Yet another factor that fuels the high cost of prisons in the city is the amount of time prisoners stay in the criminal justice system. It is common for inmates to wait years in city jails before going on trial. A recent New York Timesseries on the Bronx criminal justice system found that many criminal cases “languis[h] for years,” undermining the “the promise of a speedy trial.”

Michael Jacobson, another former corrections commissioner, told the AP, “Not only is that a miscarriage of justice, it affects your operations. Not only is that a miscarriage of justice, it affects your operations.”


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.