$167,731—that’s roughly the cost of an Ivy League education, and according to New York City’s Independent Budget Office, that’s how much NYC’s Department of Correction spent per inmate, per year in 2012.
That comes to $460 per day for each of the 12,287 average daily inmates that were in New York’s custody.
If that number seems high to you, that’s because it is. Other large cities spend a fraction of that amount–$47,063 per inmate per year, or $129 per day, in Los Angeles; in Chicago the cost is $52,925 per year, or $145 per day.
And New York’s costs are continuing to go up! Adjusting for inflation, NYC spent $45,576 more per inmate per year in 2012 than it did just 11 years ago, in 2001.
So why are New York’s costs so much higher than other cities? There are several factors that play into the equation. New York employs roughly 9,000 unionized corrections officers (the DOC says 86% of its operating costs go towards staff wages). NYC is also required by law to provide several expensive services to inmates, including high-quality medical care within 24 hours of incarceration.
Another huge factor in New York’s high incarceration cost is the amount of resources required to operate Riker’s Island. The Independent Budget Office report notes the Department of Correction spends over $30 million annually just on transporting inmates to and from their court appearances—not to mention the costs associated with maintaining the island and transporting employees, food, and supplies.
Finally, New York’s prison stays are unnecessarily long. According to the DOC, the average length of stay for detainees awaiting trial was 53 days, while sentenced inmates averaged only 38.6 days. Inmates are spending more time in jail waiting for trial than after being convicted! Speeding up the trial process would mean fewer inmates and lower costs.
For more information, see this Associated Press article.