New York State sends more people to prison for technical parole violations — like missing a curfew, failing a drug test, or being unable to secure employment — than any other state in the country, according to The Crime Report.
Not only does this have a lasting impact on the justice system, but it impacts taxpayers, as they are the ones that supply a large sum of the enormous reincarceration cost, according to a groundbreaking report released Thursday by the Justice Lab at Columbia University and The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
The latest report, titled The Enormous Cost of Parole Violations in New York, analyzes state department budgets, spending, and taxpayer dollars of 2019 to narrate how much money New York State is spending to incarcerate people for parole rule violations. It also analyzes how much money the state could be saving if they enacted reform.
The report found that New York State spent $319 million in 2019 to incarcerate people for parole rule violations in state prisons. In addition, New York counties—excluding the five counties in New York City—collectively spent more than $91 million to jail people who were accused of technical violations. And New York City alone spent more than $273 million to jail people accused of technical violations.
That put the total cost to taxpayers at a “staggering” $683 million, the report said.
“New York State’s parole system is not only inequitable — it is also extraordinarily costly,” said Judge Jonathan Lippman, Commission Chair and Former Chief Judge of the State of New York. “Taxpayers are picking up the tab for a system that sends too many people to jail and prison for minor technical violations, rather than for committing actual crimes.”
Some advocates would argue that “too many people” is an understatement, considering in New York State alone, there are approximately 35,000 individuals under parole supervision on any given day.
Moreover, of the New Yorkers sent back to prison in 2016, 65 percent were reincarcerated for technical parole violations — like missing a curfew, failing a drug test, or being unable to secure employment.
What’s also striking is the clear racial disparity: “Black people are incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations at more than 12 times the rate of whites,” the Less Is More NY campaign details.
All of this, researchers say, has an “enormous cost.”
“Currently, New York State is spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on locking Black and Latinx people up for minor technical parole violations — upending lives and harming communities with little to no benefit in terms of public safety,” said Vincent Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab and former New York City Probation Commissioner.
Schiraldi continued, “Imagine what more New Yorkers could accomplish if our state stopped wasting money on incarcerating people for technical parole violations and invested in programs and services that have been proven to produce actual safety and community wellbeing.”
After analyzing the number of people reincarcerated for parole violations, the budget for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the researchers calculated the annual cost to reincarcerate someone, as well as the annual cost to keep someone behind bars.
The researchers found New York State spent approximately $319,516,000 to incarcerate people for parole rule violations in 2019 — amounting to an average annual cost of $79,879 per incarcerated person.
To add to that, the researchers note that this doesn’t include the estimated and associated cost for benefits and pensions for DOCCS employees.
Extrapolating these numbers, the researchers estimate that New York taxpayers will pay over $6.8 billion over the next 10 years simply to incarcerate people for rules violations.
Because of the fixed cost it takes to run and operate a carceral facility, the researchers say the best way to keep costs down is to reduce the jail or prison population.
“Recent figures released by DOCCS suggest that reducing prison capacity by 1,200 beds is expected to reduce spending by $35 million, resulting in marginal savings of $29,000 per bed,” the report details. “These figures are consistent with previous DOCCS statements that eliminating 6,650 prison beds since 2011 saves $193 million annually.”
The authors add that these findings suggest to state policymakers that change must occur, and that the state government must reach out to make meaningful collaborations with communities that are already heavily impacted by this injustice.
Moreover, the funds should be reinvested into services, an idea that is gaining traction in legislative reforms.
The full report can be accessed here.