RD536 - Report on the Offender Population Forecasts (FY2022 to FY2027) – October 15, 2021

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 typically 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 and the Chairmen/Chairwomen of the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, the House Courts of Justice Committee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

To produce the offender forecasts, the Secretary's Office utilizes an approach known as "consensus forecasting." First implemented in Virginia in the late 1980s, consensus forecasting is an open, participative approach that brings together policy makers, administrators, and technical experts from many state agencies across all branches of state government. The objective is to ensure that key policy makers and administrators in the criminal justice system have input into the forecast. Moreover, the process is intended to promote general understanding of the forecast and the assumptions that drive it.

Since 2006, the consensus forecasting process has involved three committees or work groups: the Technical Advisory Committee, the Secretary's Work Group, and the Policy Committee. The Technical Advisory Committee is composed of experts in statistical and quantitative methods from several agencies. Analysts from particular agencies are tasked with developing offender forecasts. Select forecasts are recommended by the Technical Advisory Committee for consideration by the Secretary's Work Group. Work Group members include deputy directors and senior managers of criminal justice and budget agencies, as well as staff of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. Normally meeting throughout the development of the forecasts, the Work Group provides guidance to the Technical Advisory Committee, discusses detailed aspects of the projections, and directs technical staff to provide additional data needed for decision making. After thorough evaluation of each forecast, the Work Group makes recommendations to the Secretary's Policy Committee. Led by the Secretary, the Policy Committee reviews the various forecasts and selects the official forecast for each population. This Committee also considers the effects of emerging trends or recent policy changes and makes adjustments to the forecasts as it deems appropriate. The Policy Committee is made up of agency directors, members of the General Assembly, and top-level officials from Virginia's executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Other individuals, such as a sheriff and jail administrator, are invited to serve on the Policy Committee to represent their respective associations. Through the consensus process, a forecast is produced and approved for each of the four major offender populations.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security opted to abbreviate the forecasting process in 2020 and 2021, while still maintaining a consensus approach. The Secretary directed the Technical Advisory Committee to examine criminal justice trends in the Commonwealth and present detailed trend information directly to the Policy Committee. The Policy Committee held a virtual meeting on September 8, 2021. As a result of COVID-19 and response policies implemented specifically to reduce the spread of the virus, Virginia experienced dramatic reductions in the confined offender populations beginning in March 2020, and, in September 2021, it remained unclear as to when, and to what extent, the populations would return to pre-pandemic levels or trends. The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the confined populations may not yet be known. Forecasting criminal justice populations in such circumstances would be particularly challenging. Furthermore, the 2021 General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation that will likely affect offender populations in ways that are not yet fully quantifiable. The Policy Committee recognized that it would be unlikely to have a high degree of confidence in any statistical projections produced this year. After careful examination of the available data, the Policy Committee selected a forecast scenario for each offender population. The Secretary's Office will continue to monitor the offender populations throughout the coming year.

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. The local-responsible jail population declined slightly in FY2019 and this modest downward trend continued into the first half of FY2020. By February 2020, the average population for the month was 19,418. As a result of state and local policies to address the spread of the COVID-19 virus and declines in the number of arrests, the local-responsible jail population fell by more than 5,000 individuals between February and June 2020 to an average of 14,188. The following month, however, the population began to grow and, by June 2021, reached an average of 16,447. Although the population increased over the course of FY2021, it has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The forecast approved by the Policy Committee anticipates that the population will continue to increase steadily during the remainder of the fiscal year, resulting in an average population for FY2022 of 16,835. For the remaining years of the forecast, the Policy Committee expects a slower rate of growth. In this scenario, an average population of 17,419 is projected for FY2027 (see table on page 10).

Adult State-Responsible Inmate Population. The largest of the forecasted populations, the state-responsible inmate population includes those incarcerated in state prisons, as well as state-responsible offenders housed in local and regional jails around the Commonwealth. This population gradually declined between October 2014 and February 2020, when it reached 36,535 inmates. Between February and June 2020, the state-responsible population fell by 2,750 inmates. This sudden, dramatic decrease occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and policies put in place to reduce the spread of the virus. From mid-March to mid-May 2020, an emergency order issued by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia suspended all non­essential and non-emergency proceedings in the state's courts. During that time, significantly fewer sentencing hearings were held, resulting in fewer offenders being sentenced to a prison tem1. Reports suggest that courts have not returned to operating at full capacity in FY2021. Additionally, in response to the pandemic, the General Assembly granted the Director of the Department of Corrections the authority to release early state-responsible inmates who were within one year of their expected release dates and who met certain release eligibility criteria. When this authority ended on June 30, 2021, 2,185 state-responsible inmates had been released early.

Unlike the local-responsible jail population, the state-responsible inmate population has continued to decline. Based on preliminary figures, there were just 31,170 state inmates as of June 30, 2021. Legislation passed by the 2021 General Assembly is expected to impact the population (e.g., increases in earned sentence credits for some offenders beginning on July 1, 2022, revision of the state's marijuana laws including legalization of marijuana possession, repeal of the Class 6 felony for a third or subsequent conviction for petit larceny, and caps on sentences for technical probation violations). The collective impact of the legislation is difficu1t to quantify precisely, particularly if criminal justice decision makers begin to adjust their practices in response to the legislation. Given the uncertainty surrounding the future state-responsible inmate population, the Policy Committee opted to set a flat forecast of 31,170 (same as the June 2021 population) for each year of the forecast horizon (see table on page 10).

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. Statutory changes, use of validated risk assessment instruments, and continued decline in the number of juvenile intake cases at Court Services Units have contributed to the long-term downward trend. Between FY2017 and FY2019, the direct care population began to level off, with the average population ranging from 335 to 338. Although the population declined significantly between February and June 2020 (from 344 to 262 juveniles), the average population for FY2020 was 331. In FY2021, an average of 235 juveniles were in the direct care population. While the number of admissions to direct care dropped significantly during the pandemic, juveniles with a determinate commitment set by the court accounted for a larger share of admissions and these juveniles stay longer, on average, than other juveniles. Given the shift towards determinate commitments and longer lengths-of-stay, the Policy Committee anticipates some growth in the direct care population after FY202 l. Based on the approved forecast, this population is expected to increase modestly over the forecast horizon to an average of 292 in FY2027 (see table on page 10).

Juvenile Detention Center Population. Juveniles held in local or commission-operated juvenile detention centers around the Commonwealth make up the juvenile local-responsible population. The detention center population has been declining for a number of years, reaching an average of 521 in FY2019. Lower numbers of intakes at Court Services Units and procedures to reduce detention of low-risk juveniles have been important factors in the downward trend. While the overall average population for FY2020 was 452, the monthly population figures decreased significantly between February and June 2020 (from 498 to 344 juveniles). The population continued to fall in FY2021, during which 350 juveniles, on average, were held in detention centers. The Policy Committee anticipates that this population will continue to decline in the short term to an average of 321 juveniles in FY2022. Given the uncertainty surrounding future admissions and length-of-stay for this population, the Policy Committee opted to set a flat forecast of 321 for the remaining years of the forecast horizon (see table on page 10).