RD513 - Report on the Offender Population Forecasts (FY2020 To FY2025) – October 15, 2019

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 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 September 2019, 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 closely examined the time lag needed for LIDS-CORIS data to mature and stabilize. Based on that review, only data through March 2019 were selected to generate the local-responsible population forecast; similarly, data through March 2019 were used to produce the adult state-responsible population forecast presented in this report. Another data lag affects the development of the adult state-responsible population forecast. The backlog of data on new commitments entering the state-responsible population has reached 15 months. Thus, the most recent new commitment information available for analysis is through March 2018. These data lags increase the degree of uncertainty surrounding the adult offender forecasts. Moreover, the backlog in drug cases pending analysis by the Department of Forensic Science (DFS) has continued to grow due to the combination of the increasing number of drug cases that are submitted to DFS and the increase in the average number of days that are required to complete analysis. It is likely that the backlog has delayed criminal drug case processing times and, once the backlog is resolved, there could be a large rise in offenders being convicted and sentenced. 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. 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 304 (0.8%), reaching 39,171 offenders in October 2014 before declining to 38,761 by the end of June 2015. The population continued to decrease in each of the following three years to 37,304 by the end of June 2018. A decline in the population of roughly 1.1% is expected for FY2019, 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 0.3% annually during the next six years, reaching 37,680 offenders by the end of FY2025 (see table on following page). On average, the 2019 forecast is lower than the forecast adopted last year by an annual average of 105 offenders. 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 FY2025, it is projected that the state-responsible population will include 2,569 technical probation violators (i.e., offenders who violated the rules of probation but have not been convicted of a new crime).(*1)

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. The trend reversed again in FY2017 and FY2018, when the population increased 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. Although data for the most recent fiscal year are not yet finalized, the population is expected to decline by 0.3% in FY2019. Under the approved forecast, the local-responsible jail population is projected to remain level from FY2020 through FY2025 (see table on page vii), with an average local-responsible population of 19,469 in the final year of the forecast horizon. This is lower than the local-responsible 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 continued to decline; between FY2010 and FY2019, juvenile intake cases at court services units declined by 39.8%. 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 FY2019, the total direct care population averaged 338, an increase of less than 1% from the previous year. The forecast for the direct care population anticipates a 3.5% increase (12 juveniles) in FY2020, followed by a decrease of two juveniles in FY2021. Beginning in FY2022, this population is expected to increase slightly each year, in part due to the larger number of juveniles admitted with determinate sentences and, thus, longer lengths-of-stay. For FY2025, the average population is projected to be 359 juveniles (see table on page vii).

Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) Population. Juveniles held in local or commission-operated juvenile detention centers around the Commonwealth make up the juvenile local-responsible population. The JDC population declined from an average of 1,010 in FY2008 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 733 in FY2014 due to longer lengths-of-stay but decreased to an average of 520 by FY2019 due to the decline in the number of juveniles detained (admissions). The average JDC population is projected to drop to 457 juveniles in FY2020, with a continued flat forecast of 457 due to uncertainty associated with admissions and average length-of-stay (see table on page vii).
(*1) The proportion of Technical Probation Violators declines as criminal histories are updated with new conviction information; as such, these Technical Probation Violator Forecasts should be considered maximums and are expected to decline by more than one-third as additional conviction information is received.