Jails Cost A Lot More Than Their Budgets Suggest, Vera Reports


New York City’s budget says it spent $1.1 billion on its jails last year, but a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice suggests New Yorkers actually paid a lot more: $2.4 billion, BuzzzFeed reports. Vera took a deep look at incarceration in 35 local jurisdictions across the U.S. Vera discovered that jurisdictions underestimated the true cost of keeping people incarcerated pending trial, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. “Because the costs reported are too often incomplete, policymakers and the public are seldom aware of the full extent of their community's financial commitment to the operations of the local jail,” the report said. “It is striking that the national price tag for jails remains unknown and that taxpayers who foot most of the bill remain unaware of what their dollars are buying.”

Unlike prisons, which are run by the states or the federal government, jails are controlled by local authorities in towns and cities. Also unlike prisons, which typically house convicts serving sentences, most jail inmates have not been found guilty of any crimes and are being incarcerated pending their trial. Although prisons tend to get a lot more attention from advocates from criminal justice reform, many more people pass through jails than through state or federal detention facilities. On any given year, jails register some 12 million admissions. Most of jails’ hidden costs show up in non-corrections budgets. In New York City, the extra $1.3 billion was spent by agencies other than the Department of Correction. The hidden costs included benefits for jail employees, medical care for inmates, and administrative services.

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