The Cautionary Instruction: In NYC crime more costly in jail than on the street

Friday, 30 August 2013 12:06 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

20130830prisoncostillustration photocom88345401 150New York City spent about $167,731 per inmate last year and had 12,287 prisoners on an average day, according to a study of New York City jails by the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO).

“The numbers provide a troubling statistical portrait of the more than 12,000 people in our city jails on a typical day last year, coming at a significant fiscal cost to the city and no doubt great social cost to families and communities,” the IBO’s Doug Turetsky told the New York Post.

The annual average taxpayer cost in 40 states responding to a recent Vera Institute of Justice survey was $31,286 per inmate. According Vera, Pennsylvania pays $42,339.00 per year, per prisoner in state prison. New York state is the highest with an annual cost per state inmate of $60,076.

Michael P. Jacobson, the director of the City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance and a former city correction and probation commissioner, told the New York Times part of the reason the city’s cost was so high was because “The inmate-to-staff ratio probably hovers around two prisoners for every guard.”

On the state level, the guard-to-prisoner ratio is one guard for every 6.7 prisoners, according to the American Correctional Association.

Jacobson also noted the success in bringing down NYC’s jail population from a peak of about 23,000 in 1993 to about 12,000 people today -- but said the fixed costs were not likely to go down soon.

Still, he said, there were things that could be done to save money, like reducing the amount of time people sat in jail awaiting trial. Some 76 percent of the inmates in the NYC were waiting on trial or other disposition, according to the IBO.

The average time spent awaiting trial has stretched to 95 days from 76 days in 2002. Many inmates cannot afford bail and simply sit in jail for months. Twice as many people as a decade ago await trial for six months or longer.

With three out of four inmates sitting in jail in New York City awaiting trial, taxpayers are paying about $1.5 billion a year incarcerating people who have not even been convicted of a crime.

Many of those inmates, if they could afford a monetary bond, would be working, united with family and paying significantly less for room and board than NYC is currently paying.

(Image: Dynamic Graphics/Getty Images)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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