Out of sight, out of mind — if there was a slogan for Rikers Island, that would be a clear winner.
Before this past January, the massive jail complex there would typically hold as many as 10,000 people on any given day. If city comptroller Scott Stringer is right — that it costs just under $1,000 per day, per inmate — that’s a bill of $9.25 million New York City taxpayers get every single day.
That’s the price we pay for safety and security, right? If someone doesn’t want to do the time, then they shouldn’t do the crime.
But that’s the thing — those housed at Rikers Island haven’t been convicted, for the most part. They are awaiting trial. Many of them before January even had a judge willing to let them go, if only they opened their checkbooks. Those with money were freed, but those without? You know the rest.
There is a tremendous amount of controversy over New York’s bail reform laws. Jail systems like Rikers have been emptied out significantly, which has saved taxpayers money, but now has led to many questions surrounding recidivism — someone who has committed a crime being likely to commit that crime again.
Many looked closely at January crime statistics, and its year-over-year spike, and pointed to this as proof that no longer holding people for lower-level crimes as they await trial was the culprit. Yet, even if crime dropped or just stayed the same, our position would be the same — there is not enough data yet available to see how bail reform affects crime rates.
The fact is, crime rates have been at near-historic lows in this city for the last few years. In the 50th Precinct, crime is indeed up more than 32 percent over 2019. It’s up by the same amount over 2010. But it’s also down 72 percent from 1993.
Let’s say that January isn’t a spike, but instead it’s a trend. If it continues through the end of the year, the 50th will end with 1,248 incidents in major categories — much more than the 959 recorded in 2019.
But it will be 16 percent lower than 2001.
It will be 45 percent lower than 1998.
It will be 75 percent lower than 1990.
There are indeed some issues with the bail reform law that will need to be addressed at some point. It’s not perfect, and people have a right to be concerned.
We can’t, however, ignore the reason why such a law was needed in the first place. Those accused of committing low-level crimes with money in their pocket were free to roam the streets, while those who didn’t have even $250 to their names were left to do nothing more than sit in jail, hoping the slow wheels of justice move just a little bit faster.
Bail reform didn’t have to be the way to go. Judges already had tools at their disposal that would have allowed those accused of crimes to still get out of jail without having to open their empty wallets. Judges chose not to do that, however, and instead have taxpayers foot a bill of $341,000 each year for that inmate.
That’s a lot of money. And we’re sure our fine men and women in uniform could find better uses for it in crime-fighting rather than simply keeping one person out of sight, out of mind.