New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released an analysis of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 spending for the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) – an agency which appears on the Comptroller’s annual “Agency Watch List” for the fourth year in a row due to concerns around soaring costs and persistent underperformance.
The analysis found that New York City spent an average of $447,337 per every incarcerated individual in FY 2020 – a 30 percent increase over the previous year – even as rates of fight and assault infractions in City jails rose by 27 percent. Comptroller Stringer underscored the need to redirect resources to programming and treatment that can prevent incarceration, increase safety within the jails, and help people succeed in their communities after they leave.
Despite historic declines in the jail population that began to accelerate at the end of 2019 with the implementation of new State bail laws and subsequent drops during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the full cost per incarcerated individual continues to increase unabated – more than doubling since FY 2015. Despite higher spending and staffing per incarcerated person, use of force, fights, and assaults on other incarcerated individuals and on officers are all on the rise.
“My analysis of the Department of Correction shows that its spending is continuing to fail to deliver meaningful results for New Yorkers – and it’s why I’m putting them on the Watch List for the fourth year in a row,” said Comptroller Stringer. “The cost to incarcerate a single individual on Rikers has exploded even as our jail population remains near historic lows – yet rates of violence continue to climb. That means we are spending more and more money to incarcerate fewer and fewer people and reducing the safety of both officers and people in custody in the process. We must reimagine our criminal legal system, dramatically reduce the pretrial population, and invest our taxpayer dollars in the resources and programs—from housing to health care—that prevent incarceration in the first place.”
First announced in 2018, the Agency Watch List calls attention to City agencies that raise the most budgetary concerns to evaluate the effectiveness of spending and recommend indicators that should be reported and monitored to achieve the Administration’s stated goals.
This year’s watch list report on the DOC highlighted the following data:
Budget and Spending
- The DOC budget declined 7 percent from $1.37 billion in FY 2017 to $1.28 billion in FY 2020 and is forecast to decrease by an additional 11 percent to $1.14 billion in FY 2021.
- Uniformed headcount has also fallen, dropping 1New York5 percent from 10,862 in FY 2017 to 9,181 in FY 2020. The City forecasts that the number of correction officers will fall by an additional 23% during FY 2021, reaching 7,060 officers by the end of June 2021. However, as of the end of November 2020, headcount was down just 3%, to 8,871.
- Overtime expenses have decreased – falling 44 percent from FY 2017 to FY 2020, as overtime per uniformed officer dropped by 37 percent from $22,131 in FY 2017 to $13,869 in FY 2020.
Census, Staffing and Cost
- Annual admissions to city jails and the average daily population have dropped substantially in recent years. During FY 2020, the population-averaged 5,841, a decline of 26 percent from the prior year and 39 percent below FY 2017. Total admissions to jail were down 60 percent, dropping from 58,226 in FY 2017 to 23,317 in FY 2020.
- For the first four months of FY 2021 (July-October 2020), as the city began to ease COVID-19 restrictions, the daily population averaged 4,193, a further decline of 28 percent from FY 2020.
- As of FY 2020, DOC employed 1.6 correction officers and spent an average of $217,043 for every incarcerated person.
- In FY 2020, the City spent an additional $230,294 in non-DOC costs for each person in custody, including expenses for employee fringe benefits and pensions and health care services provided by other agencies, bringing the full annual cost of incarceration to $447,337 per person.
Violent Incidents and Use of Force
- Violence in City jails rose in FY 2019 and again in FY 2020. From FY 2019 to FY 2020, the rate of fight and assault infractions rose by 27 percent and the rate of violent incidents among the jail population rose by 16 percent. Assaults on staff have also increased with the rate rising 26 percent in FY 2020.
- The rate of incidents and allegations of use of force has also grown sharply, nearly doubling from FY 2018 to FY 2020.
Access to Health and Mental Health Services
- As admissions have fallen, the percentage of the jail population with a mental health diagnosis has gone up, reaching 46 percent in FY 2020 and 54 percent in the first four months of FY 2021.
- The share of the jail population with a serious mental health diagnosis also increased from 14.8 percent in FY 2020 to 17 percent in the beginning of FY 2021.
According to the New York City Board of Correction, as of the last day of FY 2020, more than 300 people in DOC custody had a confirmed case of COVID-19, while more than 200 Correctional Health Services staff and over 1,400 DOC staff had contracted the virus. Three people in custody have died of COVID-19.