Park Avenue. Soho. Chelsea. Midtown.
When one thinks of exclusive addresses in New York City, the first thing that likely comes to mind is a penthouse overlooking Central Park, or perhaps an historic brownstone in a trendy part of town. But when it comes to expensive living quarters, those addresses have nothing on the more spartan surroundings in the middle of the East River.
A recent study performed by the Independent Budget Office in New York City reveals the staggering amount being spent to house inmates our nation’s largest city. According to the report, the annual cost per inmate in state-run facilities for the year 2012 was an amazing $167,731. That equates to roughly $460 a day, or nearly $14,000 a month.
Even in a city with a cost of living as high as New York’s, one is most certain to find significantly better accommodations at a mere fraction of the cost.
To look at it another way, for the annual amount spent to house prisoners in New York City, those same prisoners could attend an Ivy League school – for four years.
Despite attempts to make the prison system more efficient, and despite a reduction in the overall prison population in recent years, the cost per inmate in New York City has skyrocketed. In 2001, the annual cost per inmate was roughly 122,155, when adjusted for inflation. In a little over a decade, these costs increased over $45,000 per inmate per year.
“Have you seen a lot of outcry on this?” asks former correction commissioner Martin Horn. “Why doesn’t anything happen? Because nobody cares.”
“That’s why we have Rikers Island,” he concludes. “We want these guys out of public view.”
But placing inmates out of sight and out of mind doesn’t solve the problem. To do so is mere whistling past the graveyard – an ignoring of the inevitable.
When it comes to assessing the total cost of the corrections system in the United States, government expenditures are just a part of the equation. There is the lost opportunity cost incurred when potential workers are removed from the economy. There is the additional cost to support children and other family members who are no longer supported by those behind bars. Perhaps most of all, there’s the fact that the incarceration itself is doing little to stem the tide of crime, and that those who are being jailed now at these exorbitant costs are likely to return to prison (and most likely an even higher cost) sometime in the future.
To think about simply reducing costs of incarceration is to put the cart in front of the horse. The first priority must be a complete review of the system itself, and how we as a nation approach corrections. Only by examining what it is that leads to astronomical rates of imprisonment, and what is effective in reducing those rates, will we be able to develop a system that is both efficient and effective.
To that end, Justice Fellowship is working to bring about needed reforms to the criminal justice system. Through lobbying efforts on both the state and federal level, Justice Fellowship seeks reforms in sentencing, in-prison policy, and reentry practices that will reduce recidivism rates, lower prison populations, and, ultimately, lower the costs of corrections – both in terms of money paid by government, as well as the costs incurred by families and communities. To learn more about the work Justice Fellowship is doing, and how you can be a part of it, visit www.justicefellowship.org.