By Corinne Ramey

New Yorkers are spending about as much on every jail inmate as an aerospace engineer makes in a year, yet violence keeps climbing, a new city comptroller's analysis shows.

The cost per inmate stood at just over $132,000 in fiscal 2016, 17% more than the year before and nearly double what it was a decade ago, according to the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer.

At the same time, the rate of fights and assaults increased 25%, city data show.

"The fact is, today's jails are failing to protect inmates and officers alike, while soaking up more and more tax dollars every year," Mr. Stringer, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration disputed the findings, citing 2016 Department of Correction data through October that show assaults on staff members have declined from the same period last year.

"Our investments in safety and skills development for staff and inmates cost money but have been key in improving conditions in our jails," said Natalie Grybauskas, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio.

By comparison, New York City's fiscal 2015 per-inmate cost was nearly triple the $38,161 that Los Angeles County spent. Chicago's Cook County spent $55,636 and the figure was $51,815 for Miami-Dade County, the analysis showed.

Mr. Stringer's office attributed the increased spending primarily to more employee overtime; more expensive ways of housing inmates, such as having fewer in a unit; and a high officer-to-inmate ratio.

For the first time since 1977, the analysis found, there was one officer for each jail inmate. The hiring of more officers was driven by violence-reduction programs and initiatives, Mr. Stringer's officesaid.

The total number of inmates in the city jail system has declined sharply.

The average daily population of city jails stands at 9,790, down from nearly 14,000 in 2007, according to city data. It reached a peak of more than 21,000 in 1992.

Despite the population decrease, the analysis showed, the correction department's annual budget has increased steadily over the past decade. The fiscal 2016 budget was $1.29 billion, a 12% increase over the year before.

Department officials have said more inmates today are difficult to handle. More than 14% are affiliated with gangs, up from 12% in fiscal 2015, and more than 40% are mentally ill, up from 37% in fiscal 2013, according to city data.

On Monday, Mr. Stringer renewed his call to close Rikers Island, a proposal that has been embraced by some inmate-rights advocates and backed by elected officials including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"We must continue to explore smarter, and more humane, ways to tackle this issue -- and work toward closing Rikers Island once and for all," Mr. Stringer said.

Mr. de Blasio has called closing the jail complex "a noble idea," but said it would cost billions of dollars and face "immense logistical moves."

Said Ms. Grybauskas: "We're proud of the reforms that have helped to make Rikers safer for staff and inmates."

Write to Corinne Ramey at Corinne.Ramey@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 28, 2016 21:48 ET (02:48 GMT)

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