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Costs at Rikers soars for second consecutive year, even as inmate population falls

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A view of the entrance to the Rikers Isl

The annual cost-per-inmate at Rikers was 17 percent higher in 2016 than the year before – even as the inmate population fell and the Department of Corrections budget increased.

NEW YORK — The cost to house inmates at Rikers has soared for the second consecutive year, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Monday.

The annual cost-per-inmate reached $132,019 – 17 percent higher than the year before – even as the inmate population fell and the Department of Corrections budget increased.

“The fact is, today’s jails are failing to protect inmates and officers alike, while soaking up more and more tax dollars every year,” Stringer said.

New York City’s inmate population is at a nine-year low, but the city has allocated more money to the DOC, according to a report from Stringer’s office. The department’s budget was increased for the 11th year in a row and overtime costs have nearly doubled since 2014.

“By many measures, New York City’s criminal justice system is moving backwards, not forward,” Stringer said. “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.”

A spokeswomen for the Mayor’s office disagreed with some of Stringer’s findings; jails actually experienced a decrease in key violence indicators in the first 10 months of this year. Higher rates of violence per 1,000 inmates were found because efforts to keep low-level offenders out of Rikers has left behind a more difficult population for the DOC to manage. More inmates now are gang-affiliated than in the past.

In an effort to reduce the violence, the DOC committed to installing new security cameras and eliminating solitary confinement for inmates age 21 and under. The DOC has also increased the daily hours of programming available to inmates in the last two years.

“We’re proud of our success in reducing the Rikers population, and we’re proud of the reforms that have helped to make Rikers safer for staff and inmates,” mayoral spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said. “Our investments in safety and skills development for staff and inmates cost money but have been key in improving conditions in our jails.”