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Stringer: Violence in city jails continued to soar as costs climbed, inmate population dropped

November 28, 2016 From NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer's Office
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
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The rate of fight and assault infractions in New York City jails skyrocketed 25 percent in Fiscal Year 2016, even as per-inmate spending grew to $132,019 and the average daily number of inmates fell to a 33-year low of 9,790, according to a new analysis released today by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. During the last fiscal year, the Department of Correction’s budget grew by $140 million, an increase of 12 percent. Focusing more resources on fewer inmates, however, did little to stem violence in city jails.

“By many measures, New York City’s criminal justice system is moving backwards, not forward. Instead of working to reverse the cycle of crime and poverty in our communities, we are warehousing New Yorkers in jails like Rikers Island, which are getting more violent by the day,” Stringer said. “The fact is, today’s jails are failing to protect inmates and officers alike, while soaking up more and more tax dollars every year. New Yorkers deserve a 21st-century criminal justice system, focused on fairness and rehabilitation — rather than one that prizes permanent punishment. We must continue to explore smarter, and more humane, ways to tackle this issue — and work towards closing Rikers Island once and for all.”
Despite 12 percent budget growth over the last year, an expansion of staffing levels and new initiatives to improve security and expand programs, violence in New York City jails continued to balloon in Fiscal Year 2016. In response to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and the Nunez legal settlement in 2015, the Department of Correction has devised a plan to reduce violence including new housing strategies, additional security cameras and monitoring, and most recently the elimination of solitary confinement for persons age 21 and under.
In Fiscal Year 2016, the rate of fight or assault infractions reached 1,148 per 1,000 average daily population (ADP) — 25 percent higher than the year prior and nearly 50 percent higher than in 2014. 

Additional findings include:

Spending Ballooned, Cost-per-Inmate Jumped, and Overtime Surged

  • In Fiscal Year 2016, the Department of Correction’s budget grew to $1.29 billion, an increase of 12 percent since 2015.

  • This is the 11th year in a row that the department’s budget has increased, while the inmate population has fallen for nine years.

  • Overtime costs have nearly doubled since 2014, growing 98 percent to reach $275 million in Fiscal Year 2016. This represents a per-inmate overtime cost of $28,074.

  • The annual cost-per-inmate reached $132,019 — 17 percent higher than the year before, and 37 percent above the Fiscal Year 2014 cost.

  • This cost-per-inmate is significantly higher than the cost in other cities with large jail systems. New York City’s cost-per-inmate is 102 percent higher than the cost in Cook County (Chicago), 117 percent higher than Miami-Dade County, 195 percent higher than Los Angeles, and 278 percent higher than Philadelphia.

The Inmate Population Fell Drastically

  • While costs were surging, the average daily inmate population fell to 9,790 — the lowest in 33 years.

  • The average daily inmate population has fallen 14 percent in the last two years, and 30 percent since 2007.

  • This is the ninth consecutive year that the average daily inmate population has fallen, and the first time in more than three decades it was below 10,000.

  • Due to these decreases — and the number of correction officers growing 12 percent — the correction officer-to-inmate ratio reached 1:1 for the first time since at least 1977. New hiring was driven by new programs and initiatives aimed at reducing violence.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Despite Investments, Violence Swells

  • The rate of fight/assault infractions reached 1,148 per 1,000 ADP in Fiscal Year 2016, representing an increase of 25 percent over the prior year, 48 percent over the last two years and 144 percent since 2007.

  • While the number of inmates has decreased, the share of the population that are at a higher risk of violence has grown. The portion of inmates designated as “security risks” has increased from 8.2 percent in Fiscal Year 2014 to 13.3 percent in Fiscal Year 2016. Similarly, the share of inmates with a mental health diagnosis has grown steadily from 27 percent in Fiscal Year 2009 to 42 percent in Fiscal Year 2016.

  • The rate of use of force by correction officers on inmates also saw a small increase, growing 14 percent between Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 to 538 per 1,000 ADP.

  • The rate of inmate assaults on staff fell to 94.8 per 1,000 ADP, a decrease of 8 percent.

  • The number of tort claims filed for personal injuries at city correction facilities — by both inmates and city employees — grew to 2,792 in 2015, an increase of 25 percent since 2014 and more than double the number in 2011.

Information from the NYC Comptroller’s Office

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