New prison estimate shows many fewer inmates
PORTLAND — Oregon's prison population is expected to dip by more than 500 inmates over the next two years as sentencing changes and other reforms take hold, according to the state's latest forecast.
The forecast Tuesday is a dramatic shift from one six months ago that predicted a rising prison population over the next decade at a cost of $600 million, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1hiM61J) reported.
But reforms from the Legislature in 2013 are expected to check that growth.
Sentences were reduced for some crimes, ranging from marijuana possession to a felony charge of driving under suspension. In some instances, offenders likely will serve probation instead of prison time.
As a result of the changes, the state expects about 1,000 fewer inmates over the next decade and can postpone opening mothballed prisons, such as a medium-security unit at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras. The state also can delay by at least five years plans to build the state's 15th prison in Junction City.
Among predictions in the semiannual forecast released Tuesday by the state Office of Economic Analysis:
— The prison population will peak next month at 14,642 and drop to 14,132 by January 2016, a decline of 510 inmates.
— Over the next decade, nearly 300 inmates will get out of prison early, spending the last 90 days of their sentence in places such as a halfway house.
— Modified sentences for drug crimes over the next decade will mean 344 offenders will serve local jail time or be put on probation instead of going to prison.
— A reduction in sentences imposed under the state's mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for identity theft and third-degree robbery spares another 177.
The legislation directed that not all savings from the prison system go back to the state. According to a legislative analysis, up to $15 million in the current budget cycle is going to local governments to beef up efforts to keep offenders from committing new crimes.
Craig Prins, executive director of the state Criminal Justice Commission, said the pressure is on for local governments to perform. He said that work is crucial to making the forecast a reality.
“We really need to implement this thing properly to get the kind of results we want,” Prins said.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com