Costly Incarcerations

Rikers' riches

New York's expensive real estate market apparently does not exclude Rikers Island. It is so expensive to house inmates at the prison there that it would probably be cheaper just to send them to college.

In September, the Associated Press (AP) reported that New York City paid $167,731 per prisoner in housing costs last year. As the AP noted, that's the cost of about four years at an Ivy League school. It is also more than three times what cities like Los Angeles and Chicago pay to warehouse prisoners.

Part of the problem is the prison's location on a 400-acre island. The city pays more than $30 million a year just to transport prisoners to courts and bring visitors back and forth. Former corrections commissioner Martin Horn recommends getting rid of Rikers Island and building new jails closer to courthouses, but residents in those areas object.

The AP report noted other issues besides just location. New York City employs 9,000 unionized corrections officers, and 86 percent of the Department of Corrections' operational costs goes to wages. Adjusted for today's dollars, the city is paying $45,000 more a year per prisoner than it was in 2001.

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