It costs nearly as much to house an inmate in a New York City jail as it does to educate a kid at an Ivy League School, according to a Washington Post article published yesterday.
New York spends $167,731 per inmate annually—about the amount parents will pay in tuition fees for four years of education in the Ivy League. That breaks down to $460 a day. However you slice it, the number is astounding.
Experts point the finger of blame at Rikers Island. This 400-acre island is home to 10 correctional facilities and thousands of employees. It’s expensive to run for a variety of reasons. To read the entire Washington Post article, click here.
One alternative is to replace Rikers Island with neighborhood jails located next to courthouses. But that politically unpopular plan was foiled by opposition from residents who live near courthouses. In the meantime, the price tag for incarceration in New York jails continues to skyrocket. And the loud opposition one might expect is not there.
Martin F. Horn, a former city correction commissioner, told the Washington Post: “My point is: Have you seen a whole lot of outcry on this? Why doesn’t anything happen?” Horn said of the $167,731 annual figure. “Because nobody cares.”
“That’s the reason we have Rikers Island,” he said. “We want these guys put away out of public view.”
Keep in mind that we’re not talking about prison. This is city jail. The population includes people who are awaiting trial. That means New York City is spending Ivy League money not only on hardened, violent criminals, but on drug addicts and small time criminals. At least some of the inmates will be found not guilty and will be released, or the charges will be dropped.
We all should be concerned with public safety. But numbers like this beg obvious questions. Isn’t there a better way? Why is the public OK with this kind of outlay of funds? Isn’t there a better way to spend this money?
Think about it: If New York City spent an average $167,731 a year to educate a high school student, or to re-train a laid-off laborer, or to feed, clothe and house a poor family, or to eliminate the digital divide, what would the public say?
Think of what organizations like Black Girls CODE, Girls Who Code, Hidden Genius Project, Year Up and others dedicated to STEM education could do with such abundance. How many disadvantaged youth would grow up to become computer programmers or engineers because of their experiences in groups like these? (Click on the name of the organization to go to their website and learn more about the great work that they do.)
But you can imagine the outcry—which is why the silence now is so loud.