New York spends more to lock up inmates than the cost of an Ivy League education


By Nigel Boys,

According to a new report, the average cost per inmate in New York’s prisons is $167,731 per year. That’s almost as much as it costs for four years of Ivy League university tuition.

According to experts, a lot of that figure comes from financing the staffing and maintenance of New York’s famous prison, Rikers Island.

Ex-commissioner of New York, Martin F. Horn said that other cities don’t have a prison facility like Rikers Island. He added that to run the 400-acre island, which is next to the runways of LaGuardia Airport, costs hundreds of millions of dollars because they have thousands of staff. They also have their own power plant and even their own bakery, among the 10 jail facilities.

The report states that, on average, there are 12,287 inmates incarcerated in Rikers Island facilities on a day-to-day basis and it costs the city about $460 per day for each of them. The total operating expenses for the Department of Correction last year was about $2 billion to pay for the upkeep of Rikers Island.

Rikers also spends about $30.3 million annually on transportation costs, which include running inmates back and forth to court appearances and bringing in the staff from a central parking lot. Last year alone 261,158 inmates were taken to court appointments, according to the report.

Horn said that if robust jails were set up next to courthouses, it would go a long way to bringing down the cost associated with Rikers Island. However, while he was commissioner, his plans to put this into practice were thwarted by opposition from residents who live near courthouses in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Other city’s expenses pale in comparison to New York’s average of $460 per day average for inmates. Los Angeles only spends about $128.94 per day on the upkeep of their prisoners and Chicago only $145 per day, according to the city’s sheriff’s offices.

According to the report, about 86 percent of the operating costs for Rikers Island go to staff wages which includes such things as pensions. When added to the debt service and the expensive fixed costs, this adds up to an annual figure which is deceiving.

Another reason for the high upkeep of prisoners in New York when compared with other cities is that it employs 9,000 correction officers who are reasonably well-paid and unionized, and high quality medical care within 24 hours of incarceration is provided to every inmate.