Word of the meltdown of New York City’s jail system has crossed the Atlantic, and apparently somebody has given The Economist magazine the kind of information that, in general, no one is allowed to talk about here in “progressive” New York.
The jail on Rikers Island is both appalling and generously funded
It costs $438,000 to jail one person for one year there
Gee, I thought everyone was obliged to say the people of New York deserve nothing because they don’t pay enough money in taxes, and cheat public employees and contractors out of $billions? And because New York doesn’t tax the rich. Didn’t the city just agree to increase the Department of Correction budget and staffing levels in response to a crisis that department and its union created?
The misery at Rikers is not for lack of resources. The jail’s population fell by half between 2012 and 2020, yet its budget grew by 24%. It costs $438,000 to jail one person there for one year. Of this $379,216 goes to personnel costs; less than 5% goes to services like substance-abuse treatment. The average salary for guards, after five and half years on the job, is $92,073. In 2012, the ratio of inmates to officers in the city was 7:5. In 2020 it was 1.6 officers per inmate.
And yet, the island’s chief medical officer said he is seeing “a collapse in basic jail operations.” On September 29th a federal judge issued an emergency order to safeguard inmates’ wellbeing.
To hear local politicians talk about it, the problem is the buildings located on Rikers Island are attacking people, and it’s the buildings that must be replaced. At a cost of $8 billion, more 10 times as much per square foot at the cost of luxury condominiums, to benefit the construction unions and contractors. The problem couldn’t be the inmates, or the guards and its union, or other parts of the public sector, could it?
So why was someone willing to make a comparison between New York’s local corrections spending today and the past, and with other places? Did the corrections officers’ union not give enough money to the right politicians? Because here is what The Economist didn’t say: the same excess of funding and staffing compared with other places, even adjusted for the cost of living here, may be found in just about every state and local government service in New York City. Even those that are merely, intentionally, inadequate, or getting worse, not “appalling,” so the inadequacy could serve as the basis for a demand for more money. Nowhere else in the U.S. is close: not New Jersey, not Connecticut, not California, not Illinois, nowhere. And unlike the Department of Corrections, at least for the moment, no politician or media source will talk about it.