Projections and Uncertainty
Is it a Quantum Physics Problem?
Richard Krupp, Ph.D.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article some counties are complaining that the “Re-alignment/Misalignment” procedure has sent more inmates their way than had been projected.” For instance:
- Los Angeles County was projected to add about 600 state prisoners by now but has booked more than 900.
- Orange County’s transfers are running more than double what the state estimated.
- Riverside County is now at 93% capacity and will be full by January.
Has there been an error in the projections? A brief look at the projection process may be helpful. The Department of Corrections has been using a complex inmate population projection system for a number of years to help determine how many inmates they need to house in the upcoming years.
The Bureau of State Audits (BSA) reviewed the prison population projection system in 2005 and found, “the projection is useful for assessing the next two years’ budget needs but has limited usefulness for longer-range planning, such as the need to build new prisons.” For example, BSA found, “the department’s fall 1995 projection forecast that the inmate population would exceed 232,000 in 2001. However, the actual population in 2001 was 161,000, a difference of 71,000 inmates.”
If we look at the spring inmate population projections going back to 2006 we can see what the 2011 inmate population was projected to be, compared to the actual population on November 14, 2011 of 155,258. As with most projections the farther out you look, the less accurate you will be. As in quantum physics, in any measurement there is an element of uncertainty. In this case, it is not a shortcoming of the projection calculation, just a product of the large number of variables and various adjustments made by outside processes.
Projected 2011 inmate population
Year of Projection Projected Population Difference from actual Error Rate 2006 193,195 37,937
2007 186,148 30,890
2008 167,535 12,277
2009 172,205 16,947
2010 164,671 9,413
2011 161,546 6,288
The closer you get to 2011, the smaller the error rate. Outside variables that can impact the projections include:
- Adjustments – Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley said his office is teaching its lawyers to “scour” criminal records to make sure they note any prior offenses when they file new charges, and to make sure that new charges include offenses categorized as serious, violent or sexual when possible.
- Proportionality - With more than 150,000 beds/cells the Department of Corrections can much more easily handle a few hundred inmates than a county with a few hundred or a few thousand beds/cells.
- Bed Days – The Department of Corrections typically makes room for inmates that stay in prison for more than an average of two years. County jails typically house inmates for closer to two months. At this rate one prison inmate is equivalent to six jail inmates as far as bed days are concerned.
Recent viewpoints expressed by Roger Warren of the National Center for State Courts and Barry Krisberg of UC Berkley have been supportive of the “misalignment procedure.” In part the hope is that “evidence-based treatment programs” will cure the inmates of their criminality if they stay at the local level. Unfortunately there is little if any “evidence” that any program will “cure the inmates” of their criminal behavior. This is actually a major outside variable. Criminals are not likely to view the “misalignment procedure” as a procedure they want to undergo.
Criminals may view all of these misguided “procedures” as an opportunity to take advantage of the criminal justice system. For example, the murder rate in Stockton went up 50% in 2010 compared to the prior year and with the 54th murder a few days ago* is set to surpass last years’ total. California citizens are likely to bear the brunt of the misalignment one way or the other.
*The 54th murder just broke the Stockton record.