RD274 - Report on the Offender Population Forecasts (FY2013 to FY2018)

Executive Summary:
Forecasts of offenders confined in state and local correctional facilities are essential for criminal justice budgeting and planning in Virginia. The forecasts are used to estimate operating expenses and future capital needs and to assess the impact of current and proposed criminal justice policies. The Secretary of Public Safety oversees the forecasting process and, as required by the Appropriation Act, presents updated forecasts annually to the Governor, the Chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees, and the Chairmen of the House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees.

To produce the prisoner forecasts, the Secretary of Public Safety utilizes an approach known as "consensus forecasting." This process brings together policy makers, administrators and technical experts from all branches of state government. The Technical Advisory Committee is composed of experts in statistical and quantitative methods from several agencies. While individual members of this Committee generate the prisoner forecasts, the Committee as a whole carefully scrutinizes each forecast according to the highest statistical standards. Select forecasts are presented to the Liaison Work Group. The Work Group evaluates the forecasts and provides guidance to the Technical Advisory Committee. The Work Group includes deputy directors and senior managers of criminal justice and budget agencies, as well as staff of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. Forecasts accepted by the Work Group then are presented to the Policy Committee. Led by the Secretary of Public Safety, the Policy Committee reviews the various forecasts, making any adjustments deemed necessary to account for emerging trends or recent policy changes, and selects the official forecast for each offender population. The Policy Committee is made up of lawmakers, agency directors, and other top officials and includes representatives of Virginia's law enforcement, prosecutor, police, sheriff, and jail associations. Through the consensus process, a separate forecast is produced for each of the four major correctional populations.

The forecasts, approved in September 2012, were based on all of the statistical and trend information known at the time that they were produced. For many reasons, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the future growth or decline of Virginia's correctional populations. For instance, the duration of the current economic downturn and the timing and pace of recovery are not known. The depth and length of the economic recession may influence the numbers and types of crimes committed in the Commonwealth. Additionally, with both state and local governments forced to reduce spending, there may be shifts in the prioritization and deployment of law enforcement resources. Furthermore, selected prison facilities have been closed and various community corrections programs have been eliminated or trimmed as a result of budget reductions. The availability of cocaine, reported to have declined during the last four years, could begin to increase once again. The forecast committees will continue to monitor the offender populations monthly in order to identify and analyze any changes as quickly as possible.

Adult State-Responsible Inmate Population

The largest of the four forecasts, the adult state-responsible inmate population includes offenders incarcerated in state prisons as well as state inmates housed in local and regional jails around the Commonwealth. After more than a decade of growth, the population has declined each year since FY2008. In FY2012, the population decreased by 0.9%, to 37,159 inmates at the close of the fiscal year. Much of the decline can be attributed to a significant drop in the number of offenders committed to the Department of Corrections (DOC) since FY2007. This shift was consistent with observed changes in arrest patterns, reductions in felony caseloads in circuit court, a decrease in the number of offenders in jail awaiting trial over several years, and changes in the backlog of drug cases awaiting analysis at the Department of Forensic Science. In recent months, however, the number of offenders in jail awaiting trial has been rising and preliminary court data for CY201l suggest an increase in the number of felony defendants in circuit court. These may be indicators that the number of commitments to prison will begin to grow during the six-year forecast horizon. Based on the approved forecast, the inmate population is projected to increase by an average of 0.5% per year to 38,202 inmates at the end of FY2018 (see table on page 3 of the report). As required by Appropriation language, the forecast has been disaggregated to identify the number of technical probation violators within the overall population. By the end of FY2018, it is projected that the state-responsible population will include 1,339 technical violators.

Adult Local-Responsible Jail Population

The adult local-responsible jail population is defined as the number of persons confined in local and regional jails across the Commonwealth, excluding state and federal inmates and ordinance violators. Following substantial growth of more than 7% in both FY2006 and FY2007, the average local-responsible jail population dropped each succeeding year through FY2011. In FY2012, the average local-responsible jail population increased by 1.5%, the first growth recorded in five years. The majority of the increase in the population was in the number of individuals in jail awaiting trial or awaiting further court action. Declines in arrests for cocaine distribution and possession since 2006 contributed to the downward trend in the jail population. Although still falling, decreases in cocaine arrests in 2010 and 2011 were considerably smaller than in prior years. Moreover, the total number of drug arrests rose in 2010 and 2011 due to increases in arrests for marijuana, heroin and other drugs, including synthetic cannabinoids, which became unlawful in Virginia in March 2011. After three years of declines, felony caseloads in circuit court appear to have risen in 2011. Length-of-stay in jail has also increased. Under the approved forecast, the local-responsible jail population is projected to grow by 2.2% in FY2013 and to increase by 1.4% to 1.5% each year thereafter, reaching an average of 21,146 offenders in FY2018 (see table on page 3 of the report). Several factors, such as arrests patterns, can have an immediate impact on the number of offenders in jail. For this reason, this population will be monitored closely throughout the coming year.

Juvenile Correctional Center Population

The juvenile state-responsible offender population refers to the number of juveniles held in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) correctional facilities. This population has been shrinking since FY2000. Some of the decline can be attributed to a change in the minimum criteria for a juvenile to be committed to DJJ (from a felony or two Class 1 misdemeanor adjudications to a felony or four Class 1 misdemeanor adjudications) beginning July 1, 2000. That policy change, however, cannot explain the persistent downward trend in commitments. At DJJ's Court Serve Units, the point of entry into the juvenile justice system, the total number of juvenile intake cases dropped for the sixth straight year. In particular, felony intake cases fell by 31% between FY2008 and FY2012. In addition, DJJ has implemented policies that emphasize the use of validated risk assessment instruments in various aspects of community and institutional operations in order to reserve correctional and detention beds for juveniles who represent the greatest risk to public safety or are at risk for failing to appear in court. In June 2012, the average daily population in Virginia's juvenile correctional centers was 741. The forecast calls for a continued decline through FY2015. Beginning in FY2016, however, the population is expected to grow again due to the longer lengths of stay, on average, for juveniles committed today compared those committed a few years ago. By June 2018, the average daily population is projected to be 593 juveniles (see table on page 3 of the report).

Juvenile Detention Home Population

The juvenile local-responsible offender population encompasses all juveniles held in locally-operated detention homes around the Commonwealth. Between FY2003 and FY2007, the average annual detention home population fluctuated between 1,030 and 1,080 juveniles. The population has been shrinking since FY2007, and detention homes housed an average of 753 juveniles in FY2012. Lower numbers of intakes at DJJ's Court Service Units and a pilot program to reduce detention of low-risk juveniles have contributed to the changes in this population. The downward trend in this population is expected to continue during the next six years. The average detention home population is projected to be 506 juveniles in FY2018 (see table on page 3 of the report).

For additional information on the offender forecasts, contact Banci Tewolde, through the Office of the Secretary of Public Safety, at (804) 786-5351.