Comptroller Scott Stringer has been getting some good press lately for his new ClaimStat program, which tracks financial claims against the city as a way of identifying potential problems. A New York Times editorial called it nothing less than a step toward “better governance through data.”
The Times pointed out that seeing where claims pop up, like certain police precincts, can help direct attention where it’s needed. The paper also noted that after a significant cut in the tree trimming budget, claims against the city resulting from falling tree branches surged. The next time city leaders want to pursue what the Times characterized as a “short-sighted” policy, the consequences, thanks to ClaimStat, will be “blindingly obvious.”
In their latest report, the Comptroller’s office looked at claims from the city’s jails. And things don’t look so good.
In the wake of a federal investigation that found completely astonishing rates of violence in the youth segment at Rikers, and Times reporting that found the same in other sections of the jail, the numbers shouldn’t be so shocking. But it certainly makes the trends clear.
What the report reflects is what we now know, thanks to the feds and the Times’ reporting. But the report would seem to underscore the efficacy of what Stringer is trying to accomplish. If ClaimStat had been operational back in 2011, when claims at Rikers started to grow in leaps and bounds, would we have seen this coming? Can ClaimStat serve as an early warning system at insular institutions like jails, where prying eyes often have a hard time peering in?
Interestingly, the recent revelations from the federal investigation came mostly from two jails, the Robert N. Davoren Center and the Eric M. Taylor Center. In the more detailed chart shown below, those units don’t look particularly bad. But given what we know now, what might be happening at the Anna M. Kross facility? That unit was part of the Times’ investigation earlier this year, and reportedly houses inmates with mental illness, but the spike in claims there seems especially dramatic.
It’s interesting that the claims actually paid out don’t appear to track the claims filed. But the report notes that the payouts will likely rise too, after claims have time to work their way through system and be adjudicated.
Read the Comptroller’s report in its entirety here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 22, 2014