RD375 - Report on the Offender Population Forecasts (FY2018 to FY2023) – October 15, 2017

Executive Summary:

Forecasts of persons 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 and Homeland Security 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's Office 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. Selected 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 Secretary's Policy Committee. Led by the Secretary, 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. Representatives of Virginia's prosecutor, police, sheriff, and jail associations are invited to participate. Through the consensus process, a forecast is produced for each of the four major offender populations.

The forecasts, approved in October 2017, were based on the statistical and trend information known at the time that they were produced. A new jail data system, known as LIDS-CORIS, was implemented in June 2013. Challenges encountered after the launch of LIDS-CORIS were addressed by the developer and resulted in a series of revisions to the data used to produce the adult state-responsible and local-responsible forecasts. Improvements in the LIDS-CORIS system and support programming, led to subsequent updates of the data in June 2015 and September 2016. In order to ensure the utmost accuracy of the forecasting data, the Technical Advisory Committee, in 2016 and 2017, closely examined the time lag needed for LIDS-CORIS data to mature and stabilize. Based on that review, only data through December 2016 were selected to generate the adult state-responsible and local-responsible population forecasts presented in this report. The Technical Committee encountered another data lag affecting development of the adult state-responsible population forecast. Data on new commitments entering the state-responsible population has become increasingly backlogged. The typical one-year lag for complete new commitment data now has extended to two years. Thus, the most recent new commitment information available for analysis is data from fiscal year (FY) 2015. These data lags increase the degree of uncertainty surrounding the adult offender forecasts. Moreover, the most recent trends in felony arrests and court filings suggest a possible change in felony court caseload trends that are not yet fully captured in the historical data on which the adult offender forecasts are based. While completed felony cases declined from 2014 through 2016, new felony charges filed in circuit court increased in 2016 and during the first half of 2017, suggesting that the number of completed felony cases may begin to rise once these charges proceed through the court system and reach disposition. This possibility adds to the uncertainty surrounding the adult offender forecasts this year.

Adult State-Responsible Confined Population. The largest of the forecasted populations, the state-responsible (SR) confined population includes offenders incarcerated in state prisons, as well as SR offenders housed in local and regional jails around the Commonwealth. After peaking at 39,158 in June 2008, the SR population averaged an annual decline of 327 (0.8%) through June 2012. Much of the decline during that period can be attributed to a decrease in the annual number of SR new court commitments, which dropped by an average of 372 (3.0%) per year during this time. This shift was consistent with observed changes in arrest patterns, a decline in felony sentencing events in circuit court, and a return to pre-2004 levels in the backlog of drug cases awaiting analysis at the Department of Forensic Science. Between June 2012 and June 2015, the SR population grew by an annual average of 434 (1.1%), reaching 39,152 offenders. However, in FY2016, the population declined by 888, or 2.3%. A decline in the population of roughly 1% is expected for FY2017, based on data available at the time of this report. According to the approved forecast, the total SR population is projected to increase by an average of 0.6% annually during the next six years to 39,278 offenders by the end of FY2023 (see table on page vii of the report). This forecast is extremely close to the forecast presented to the Governor and 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 FY2023, it is projected that the state-responsible population will include 1,752 technical probation violators (i.e., offenders who violated the rules of probation but have not been convicted of a new crime).

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 FY2010. In FY2011, the local-responsible jail population began to rise, with growth averaging 1.2% annually through FY2014. This period of growth did not continue, as the local-responsible jail population decreased by 1.3% in FY2015 and then 4.2% in FY2016. Although data for the most recent fiscal year are not yet finalized, the population is expected to grow by nearly 3% for FY2017; consistent with the recent uptick in felony arrests for violent offenses and drug crimes. Under the approved forecast, the local-responsible jail population is projected to return to an average annual growth of 1.4% through FY2023 (see table below). This would bring the average local-responsible population to 20,522 in FY2023, a projection that is more than 1,000 higher than the forecast submitted to the Governor and General Assembly last year.

Juvenile Direct Care Population. Juvenile offenders committed to the state are held in facilities operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) or they are placed in re-entry, community placement, or other programs; collectively, these make up DJJ's total direct care population. The number of juveniles in the direct care population has been falling overall since FY2000. Some of the early 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, as well as subsequent statutory changes discussed later in this report. These policy changes alone cannot explain the persistent downward trend in commitments. At court services units, the point of entry into the juvenile justice system, the total number of juvenile intake cases has declined for the twelfth consecutive year. In addition, DJJ has implemented procedures 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 FY2017, the total direct care population averaged 338, a decrease of 68 (16.7%) from the previous year. The forecast for the direct care population anticipates a continued decline through FY2019. Beginning in FY2020, this population is expected to level off and then increase slightly. For FY2023, the average population is projected to be 333 juveniles (see table on page vii of the report).

Juvenile Detention Home Population. Juveniles held in local or commission-operated juvenile detention homes around the Commonwealth make up the juvenile local-responsible population. The juvenile detention home population declined from an average of 1,058 in FY2007 to an average of 727 in FY2013. Lower numbers of intakes at court services units and procedures to reduce detention of low-risk juveniles have contributed to the downward trend. The population increased slightly to 735 in FY2014 due to longer lengths-of-stay, but decreased to 643 in FY2016 due to drop in detainments (admissions). The average detention home population increased to 644 in FY2017, despite fewer detainments, due to slightly longer lengths-of-stay for some categories of juveniles. The average detention home population is projected to drop to 568 juveniles by FY2023 (see table on page vii of the report).