by Dick Hall-Sizemore
Each year the state produces six-year forecasts of state and local criminal offender populations. These forecasts are ultimately adopted by an interagency, inter-disciplinary committee, chaired by the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
The process of producing the forecasts is fairly complicated and stretches over several months, involving numerous meetings. I will provide a more detailed description later when the final forecasts are agreed upon and released, which will be in October.
In the meantime, one of the main benefits of the process, aside from the forecasts themselves, is a comprehensive look at criminal justice trends in Virginia. This information was gathered from the research of analysts in several agencies and presented to the Offender Population Forecast Policy Committee in late August. The presentation went into a great detail and consisted of over 70 Power Point slides. Needless to say, I will limit this report to a few of the most salient charts.
Reported Crime and Drug Arrests Overview
Reported Violent and Property Crime Rates
As shown above, the reported crime rates in Virginia continue to decline. This decline is the continuation of an even longer decline, stretching back to the 1990’s.
However, drug arrests were up and continue to exceed the national rates.
Drug Arrest Rates
The composition of the drug arrests is interesting and surprising (to me, at least). Marijuana arrests far and away exceed the arrests for other drugs. Furthermore, the increase in the marijuana arrest rate exceeds the increases for the other categories.
Breakdown of Drug Arrests, by Category
Some other details regarding illegal drug activity:
- Arrests for illegal use of prescription opioids have decreased annually since 2012.
- Arrests involving illicit opioids decreased slightly in 2018 from previous year.
- Overdose deaths involving heroin/fentanyl increased from about 400 in 2015 to about 1,000 in 2017.
- After decreasing from 2008 to 2015, the arrests for cocaine possession/sale began to rebound.
- Arrests for possession/sale of methamphetamine increased sharply from 2015 to 2018.
Jail and Prison Populations
Most of the arrests and convictions for drug offenses are for misdemeanors, which are served in local jails. The increase in drug arrests has resulted in an increase in the local-responsible population in the state’s jails, as shown in the chart below. The population is being affected by not only the number of drug arrests, but also by a backlog at the Department of Forensic Science, which tests drug samples sent in by police departments. Due to staffing issues, the length of time it takes for DFS to complete a drug analysis has increased. Many persons charged with a drug offense must wait in jail until the drug analysis is completed before going to trial.
(The data line is jagged because of the decidedly seasonal nature of jail populations, which tend to decrease in the winter months and increase as the weather gets warmer. However, it is clear that the overall trend has been upward for the last three years.)
Finally, some more good news. The number of state-responsible offenders (those offenders convicted of felonies and receiving a prison term of one year or more) continued its decrease from a high in 2014. However, this decrease will not result in any prison closings any time soon. The Department of Corrections has only approximately 30,000 beds in its facilities. The remaining 6,500 state responsible offenders must be housed in jails.
Summary: The rate of reported serious violent and property crimes continues to decline. However, the number of arrests for drug offenses continues to increase. The increased number of drug offenders, combined with a backlog in the Department of Forensic Science, has resulted in increased local and regional jail populations. Finally, the number of offenders eligible for incarceration in prison continues to decrease.There are currently no comments highlighted.