Send a New York City Criminal to College Instead and Save Money

The Big Apple pays a ton to keep its inmates locked down, and some are trying to disguise where the real costs are


Especially bold when it comes to negotiations with management.
Credit: peterkreder / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Prison is crazy expensive in New York City – perhaps another reason to celebrate the end of stop-and-frisk and call for the end of the drug war. Some want to lay the blame of the cost to shuttle prisoners back and forth to Rikers Island and the various expenses of keeping such an unusual prison open, but there's more than that. The Associated Press reports:

New York is indeed an expensive place, but experts say that alone doesn't explain a recent report that found the city's annual cost per inmate was $167,731 last year — nearly as much as it costs to pay for four years of tuition at an Ivy League university.

They say a big part of it is due to New York's most notorious lockup, Rikers Island, and the costs that go along with staffing, maintaining and securing a facility that is literally an island unto itself.

"Other cities don't have Rikers Island," said Martin F. Horn, who in 2009 resigned as the city's correction commissioner, noting that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent a year to run the 400-acre island in the East River next to the runways of LaGuardia Airport that has 10 jail facilities, thousands of staff and its own power plant and bakery.

But after letting Horn go on (and pointing out that New York City does pay much more per prisoner than Los Angeles and Chicago), only then does the Associated Press note that according to the Department of Corrections, the brunt of the cost is to pay employees, 86 percent in fact:

Nick Freudenberg, a public health professor at Hunter College, said the latest city figures show that declining incarceration rates haven't translated into cost savings.

In 2001, when the city had 14,490 inmates, the full cost of incarcerating one inmate at Rikers Island for a year was $92,500, or about $122,155 adjusted for today's dollars — that means the city spent $45,576 more in 2012 than it did 11 years ago.

The above paragraphs were buried down toward the end of the story, as is the fact that many prisoners have to wait ages, even years to see trial in New York City. Earlier in September, WNYC made note of the case of Donovan Drayton, who was arrested for murder at age 19 and waited for five years for his trial. He was found not guilty.

WNYC reported:

Over the past decade, as New York City's backlog of felony cases has grown, so too has the time defendants are spending behind bars before trial. The average pretrial detention in a felony case was 95 days in 2012 — up 25 percent from a decade earlier, despite a drop in new felony cases, according to a recent report from City University of New York researchers. And some defendants spend significantly longer behind bars. Of the people who spent time in jail during 2012, about 3,200 were behind bars for a year or more awaiting their day in court, according to city data.

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  1. You can’t put a price tag on keeping our children safe. Or on keeping the prison industrial complex in jobs.

    1. Hey, where else can an abusive lunatic go if he wants to smack people up for 20 years and then draw a pension? Besides the po-po.

      1. Mental institution?

      2. The Harvard Kennedy School of Government?

  2. I guess if you can’t guarantee a speedy trial, just change the definition of “speedy.”

    1. Living, breathing Constitution to the rescue!

    2. That old thing! It’s, like, a hundred years old or something – what good is it?

  3. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,…

    I mean its the 6th amendment, and most politicians have trouble counting past four so it doesn’t really matter right?

    1. Four? Most can’t count past one.

      1. If they can count to six they’ll definitely forget two.

      2. Pretty sure Math and Politics is like trying to mix water and oil. They’re just not compatible.

        1. Or progressivism and a rudimentary understanding of economics.

    2. I wonder what “speedy” would consist of today? Back in the day, with horse and buggy, circuit riding judges, and the etc., it might have been six months at most.
      Pick up any newspaper today and you’ll read of trials starting for crimes committed in 2010 or earlier, and for
      sentencing to occur months from now for a verdict just handed down.

  4. Any industry where the main cost is wages is going to see costs rise faster than the economy as a whole.

  5. many prisoners have to wait ages, even years to see trial in New York City.

    Cut them some slack, Shackford. There are bike paths to build.

  6. The socially and environmentally responsible solution to this is to shut down Rikers Island.

    Use Eminent Domain (New York you know you love it) and seize part of the Upper East Side. Build a new eco-friendly prison there with some affordable housing for the Bold Corrections Officers.

    YKIMS Comrades.

    1. Maybe they can seize the Barclays Center? That would be sweet revenge for those who were forcibly evicted to build it.

  7. This reminds me of that story a while back about how it costs ~8000 a school year (180 days) per student for busing costs. Which is about what most places spend on an entire education, not just the rides. Hey, it’s not their money!

    1. In NYC? Public schools in NYC do not have bus service. Well to be accurate, there is bus service provided for disabled students but everyone else walks or takes the train/city-bus. Public school students are provided with reduced fare Metrocards but they are only valid during school transit hours (a co-worker of mine recently spent a night in Rikers for illegal use of a student Metrocard).

      1. I was referring to this article:…../page/full

        “In response to the union criticism, the DOE recently issued a “School Bus Bids FAQ” which makes a staggering admission: the city spends $6,900 per student (for a total of $1.1 billion) per year for bus transportation.

        In a 180 day school year, that’s $38.33 per student a day. At that rate it might be more cost-effective for the school system to distribute vouchers for kids to take taxis.”

        1. After investigating the linked article and the DOE website, it seems the article is refering to total cost of pupil transportation. This includes the student Metrocards, yellow bus service for disabled students, and bus service for private schools (why the city pays for that, I have no idea); also, our buses run all year-round for summer school and regular school year. Apples to oranges to compare to other districts. Your point does stand that we spend far too much tax money on something that should be solely the parents responsibility.

          1. From the NYC DOE website…..efault.htm

            The Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) is the largest school transportation department in the country. Over 600,000 New York City students attending both public and non-public schools located within the five boroughs and neighboring counties in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut use these services. OPT also provides bus service for more than 160,000 field trips every year.

            Here are the eligibility requirements for students. Not all schools have yellow bus service, their students get Metrocards. Of the schools that do offer daily yellow bus service, eligible students may opt for a Metrocard in lieu of bus service.

  8. Just give the convicts Yankees tickets. Except for the worst of the worst, of course. Those you send to Giants games.

    1. Can’t be much worse than Red Sox fans.

    2. I thought they already gave them tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles home games.

  9. They probably should send the convicts to college instead of jail. The recidivism rate would probably be much lower.

    1. It’d be worse – you got to pay off those student loans somehow and criminals can make more money being criminals than they can as Starbucks baristas.

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