Why it matters

A nuanced understanding of projected prison and supervision population trends can help states prepare for or avoid future challenges. For example, prison population projections showing significant growth can indicate when costly new facilities might need to be built to accommodate a larger prison population. States can use these projections to spur changes in policy and practice to alter the course of growth and prevent the need to build those new facilities. Additionally, projections that show anticipated declines in prison populations can help states identify the point at which a state might derive cost savings through a full or partial closure of a corrections facility.

While most states develop some form of prison population projection for internal use by departments of corrections, few states develop projections for parole or probation populations. Creating and publishing projections can help correctional agencies and policymakers understand how the size of these correctional populations are likely to change, which can further help states anticipate what resources might be needed in the future, be it more supervision officers, treatment beds, or community programs.

What it looks like

  • Require corrections and supervision agencies to regularly craft and publish population projections that look ahead at least five years.
  • Ensure that the state legislature receives population projections.
  • Consider population projections and potential impacts in the development of new legislative policy or corrections practices. 

Key questions to guide action

  • How is your prison population projected to change over the next five years?
  • What is your state’s process for projecting changes in correctional populations? Are stakeholders from across the criminal justice system consulted to ensure that managing corrections growth is a shared responsibility?
  • How can your state ensure that supervision agencies regularly conduct population projections?

Use the information that follows to inform your answers to these questions.

The majority of states use projections to anticipate changes in prison populations, but few states use projections for parole or probation populations. Not all states publish their projections.

24 of 31 states are projecting growth in their prison populations.