RD292 - Report on the Offender Population Forecasts (FY2014 to FY2019)

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 offender 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 offender forecasts, the Committee as a whole carefully scrutinizes each forecast according to the highest statistical standards. Select forecasts are presented to the Secretary’s 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 2013, were based on all of the statistical and trend information known at the time that they were produced. Throughout the coming year, the offender populations will be closely monitored in order to identify any changes or shifts as soon as they emerge.

Adult State-Responsible Inmate Population. The largest of the four forecasts, the 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 declined each year from FY2008 through FY2012. Much of the decline during that period can be attributed to a significant drop in the number of offenders committed to the Department of Corrections (DOC) during that time. This shift was consistent with observed changes in arrest patterns, reductions in felony caseloads in circuit court, and stabilization in the backlog of drug cases awaiting analysis at the Department of Forensic Science. From June 20, 2012, through May 31, 2013 (the most recent data available), the inmate population grew by 0.1% to 37,193. This is the first increase in the population in five years. The rise in the inmate population is the result of a recent increase in the number of offenders committed to prison. Between July and December 2012, the number of new commitments to DOC was slightly higher than the number of commitments during the same period of the previous year. Based on the approved forecast, the inmate population is projected to increase by an average of 0.6% per year to 38,449 inmates at the end of FY2019 (see table on page vii of the report). This forecast is comparable to the forecast presented to the General Assembly last year. As required by Appropriation language, the forecast has been disaggregated to identify the number of probation violators within the overall population who may be appropriate for punishment via alternative sanctions. By the end of FY2019, it is projected that the state-responsible population will include 1,382 technical probation violators (i.e., offenders who violated the rules of probation but have not been convicted of a new crime). Based on previous study, DOC has estimated that 53% of technical violators sentenced to the Department may be suitable for alternative sanctions.

Adult Local-Responsible Jail Population. The 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 in FY2006 and FY2007, the average local-responsible jail population declined each succeeding year through FY2011. In FY2012, the average local-responsible jail population increased for the first time in five years. The upturn continued in FY2013, with the average population climbing by 3.3% to 19,992 for the fiscal year through May 2013 (June figures are not yet available). The growth has been driven by the number of individuals in jail awaiting trial and the number of individuals in jail with additional cases pending. While overall commitments to jail decreased slightly in FY2013, this has been offset by longer lengths-of-stay across most categories. For example, the average length-of-stay for offenders released to bond has increased by 14% since FY2011. Under the approved forecast, the local-responsible jail population is projected to grow by an average of 1.9% per year to 22,277 offenders in FY2019 (see table on page vii of the report). Due to higher than projected growth in FY2013, this forecast is higher than the one submitted a year ago.

Juvenile Correctional Center Population. Juvenile offenders committed to the state are held in facilities operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The juvenile correctional center population has been declining since FY2000. Some of the decline may 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, and other subsequent statutory changes. These policy changes, however, cannot explain the persistent downward trend in commitments. At court service units, the point of entry into the juvenile justice system, the total number of juvenile intake cases has declined for the ninth straight year. In addition, DJJ has implemented procedures and practices that include the use of validated risk assessment instruments in numerous aspects of community and facility operations in order to reserve juvenile correctional beds for those who represent the greatest risk to public safety. In FY2013, the average daily population in Virginia’s juvenile correctional centers was 693. The juvenile correctional center forecast anticipates a continued decline in this population through FY2016. Beginning in FY2017, however, this population is expected to level off due to the longer lengths of stay, on average, for juveniles committed in the most recent fiscal years compared to those committed in years prior. By June 2019, the juvenile correctional center population is projected to be 520 (see table on page vii of the report).

Juvenile Detention Home Population. The juvenile local-responsible population encompasses all juveniles held in local or commission-operated juvenile detention homes around the Commonwealth. The juvenile detention home population declined from an average of 1,061 in FY2007 to an average of 758 in FY2011. Lower numbers of intakes at court service units and procedures and practices to reduce detention of low-risk juveniles have contributed to the changes in this population. Since FY2011, the juvenile detention home population has been relatively stable. Statewide, detention homes housed an average of 729 juveniles in FY2013. The average detention home population is projected to be 662 juveniles in FY2019 (see table on page vii of the report).