Considering that the mean annual wage for all workers in New York City is $62,330, it does not seem right that the city spends an eyebrow-raising $167,731 a year per inmate. In comparison, Los Angeles spends $47,063 a year per inmate, while Chicago is slightly higher at $52,925. The New York City figure is almost what it would cost to send someone to Columbia or Cornell University for four years. It would be literally cheaper to send inmates to these schools than to incarcerate them.
One of the biggest factors identified by experts for this staggering bill is the high costs associated with maintaining, staffing and running the 400-acre Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex. Because the jail is actually an island, the city spends in excess of $30 million on inmate transportation alone. Three buses serve to shuttle inmates to courthouses in the five boroughs of the city, prompting suggestions that jails nearer to the courthouses may be the more economical solution to the problem. Residents in the area are not in favor of the notion of having a jai right in their midst.
Staff wages, which comprise 86% of the city’s prison system operating budget, is also a major cost factor. Coupled with the fact that the average length of stay of detainees in the system who are awaiting trial is 53 days, it is no wonder that the price tag is so high.