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Prison Population Forecasting Gets Tough
Criminal justice system practices have a significant effect

Twice each year the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis produces the Oregon Corrections Population Forecast which provides projections of the offender populations supervised by the Oregon Department of Corrections. The Department is mandated to use the forecast for budgeting and policy development where the inmate population is concerned.

The report chronicles a steep decline -- based on the reduced ability of the criminal justice system to function due to COVID-19 -- followed by a predicted return to normal, based on normalization of society.

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing dramatic upheaval in the state’s prison system. From April 2020 to February 2021, intakes to prison are 140 intakes below pre-pandemic averages on a monthly basis. This has caused the prison population to drop well below the prior forecast. This forecast assumes that intakes continue to fall short of normal levels, albeit at a decreasing rate, until October 2021. At that point, the criminal justice system is expected to resume functioning in a normal manner. The accuracy of the forecast presented herein is critically dependent on these assumptions and will deteriorate if any or all of them fail to hold.

The report acknowledges that changes in the law and practices within the criminal justice system can impact prison population, but doesn't factor the criminal justice reform bills of the first special session of June 2020 into its forecast:

Criminal justice system practices have a significant effect on the flow of individuals through the court system and into the prisons. Emphasis on specific criminal activity and plea practices, for example, can change based on law enforcement policy and prosecutorial discretion. The amount of discretion in the corrections system, in particular with respect to prosecution of crimes and punishments sought, introduces a considerable degree of uncertainty to the forecast. Even if there was never a change in criminal activity or laws in Oregon, the prison population could vary considerably based on administrative procedures, policies, and individual discretion exercised in law enforcement, prosecution, plea bargaining, and sentencing by judges.

On the heels of the death -- adjudicated to be a murder -- of George Floyd in Minnesota, the following bills were championed by State Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Portland), passed in June 2020 and have been signed into law by Governor Brown: None of these so-called reforms will drive a spike in prison population, but collectively they could drive an increase, especially if backed by the winds of political forces.

Meanwhile, as crime increases -- especially in the Metro area -- the Mill Creek Correctional Facility near Salem and Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend are both going to be closed within the next six months, marking a loss of over 300 beds. Prior to COVID-19, the ongoing riots and basic lawlessness in the Metro area, and the prison reform bills of the 2020 First Special Session, prison forecasting was easier. We will have to see how the forecasts turn out in the next few years.


--Staff Reports

Post Date: 2021-07-18 16:22:33Last Update: 2021-07-18 17:04:20



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