NYC Jails Budget Soars, as Inmate Population Drops

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs Features Dow Jones Newswires

The city's Department of Corrections budget has increased by 44% in the last decade to $1.36 billion despite the inmate population declining to its lowest point in more than 30 years, according to a report issued Wednesday by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

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The report showed the department spent $143,130 on each inmate at the 12 city jail complexes in fiscal 2017 compared with $67,565 in fiscal year 2007. During that time, the average daily inmate population declined from 13,987 to 9,500 -- a 34-year-low.

"An extraordinary decline in inmates should yield cost-savings and better all-around outcomes -- not dramatic spending increases," Mr. Stringer said in a statement. "We have to do better, and as this analysis makes clear, we're putting far more money into far fewer inmates."

City officials say that money is being well spent on skill-development programs for inmates designed to help them readjust to society after they are released. A Department of Corrections spokesman noted $93 million in funding Mayor Bill de Blasio has invested since fiscal 2016 for such programs and job training.

The money also is used to improve safety conditions, the spokesman said, including surveillance cameras, safety equipment and X-ray machines.

But Mr. Stringer's report showed the rate of violence per number of inmates has increased. The number of assault infractions per 1,000 inmates increased from 470 in 2007 to 1,332 in 2017. The number grew even though there were more uniformed corrections officials in jails than inmates for a second consecutive year.

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Natalie Grybauskas, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the rate of violence is a result of the city's efforts to divert low-level offenders out of jail.

"We're proud of our success in reducing the jail population, and we're proud of New York City the reforms that have made Rikers safer for staff and inmates," she said of the New York City jail complex. "Our investments in safety and skills development for staff and inmates cost money but have been key in improving conditions in our jails."

Others said the increase in violence, despite more spending, is a reason to close the Rikers Island jail quickly.

Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, a public-safety policy organization, lauded the increased funding for skills-development programs, but said it should come with a decrease in violence.

"No matter what we do or what we spend, Rikers keeps getting worse," he said. "To me there is one solution, close it fast and close it yesterday."

Mr. de Blasio has said his administration's plan is to close the complex in at least a decade by building new jails throughout the city.

Write to Zolan Kanno-Youngs at Zolan.Kanno-Youngs@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 14, 2017 17:59 ET (22:59 GMT)