Accomadating Prison Population Growth Essay Research Paper

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Accomadating Prison Population Growth Essay, Research Paper Inmate Population In August 1994, the California Department of Corrections released its annual five-year facilities master plan for new prison construction. This plan, usually submitted to the Legislature earlier in the calendar year, was delayed so that the additional need for new prison beds resulting from the recently enacted Three Strikes and You’re Out legislation could be incorporated into the plan. The facilities plan is based on the department’s spring 1994 population estimate that estimated a total of 246,000 inmates by June 1999. This projection was recently revised to 211,000, 35,000 fewer inmates. There are several reasons for this reduction, as shown in Figure 1 and discussed below. First, there have

recently been fewer new admissions into the prison system than was projected in the spring 1994 estimate. The CDC now projects that total new admissions will still grow continuing a long-term trend but not as much as previously estimated. This affects the projections both for the base population (inmates and prison terms that would occur without the Three Strikes law) and for those inmates sent to prison under the Three Strikes law. The CDC assumes that there have been fewer Three Strikes admissions than previously anticipated in part because of the large backlog of Three Strikes cases awaiting adjudication. Second, the CDC has lowered its projection of felons that, because of Three Strikes, would be sent to state prison instead of being sentenced to local jails or put on

probation. Third, the CDC incorporated the Three Strikes law into the computer model that is used for biannual projections for inmate population. The previous Three Strikes estimate was based on a simplified model that the CDC uses for assessing the impact of proposed legislation. (This third factor accounts for 19,000 of the 35,000 total reductions in the five-year estimate.) In total, about 30,000 of the 35,000 reductions in estimated inmate population is due to the CDC’s revised estimate of the impact of the Three Strikes law. The CDC is currently evaluating whether there are likely to be changes in the long-term impact of this law. (The department’s spring 1994 long-term assessment was that Three Strikes would eventually increase inmate population by 275,000 in 2026-27.)

The Three Strikes law will have a far greater impact on the prison population than any prior single piece of legislation. Given the sweeping scope of this new law, population projections are subject to great uncertainty. Specifically, one area which is very difficult to estimate is any behavioral changes either on the part of criminals or the criminal justice system stemming from this law. In response to Three Strikes, there are noticeable changes in the patterns of pleadings entered by defendants. Over time, such behavioral changes could result in wide variances from the CDC’s current population estimate. The actual inmate population is currently below the fall projections, which could be attributable to the behavioral changes mentioned above. As of early December, the

population was unchanged over the previous four months and was about 2,600 less than the CDC’s fall 1994 estimate. Based on discussions with the CDC staff and with local criminal justice officials, this is probably due to an increased backlog of cases awaiting trial. If the local criminal justice system takes steps to reduce the backlog, however, the inmate population might still increase to levels projected by the CDC. Regardless of these short-term impacts of the Three Strikes law, planning for new prisons must focus on inmate population trends over several years. For new prison planning purposes, therefore, we believe that the CDC’s projections provide at least a reasonable order of magnitude of future inmate population. Although the department’s projections have been