PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s prison population is estimated to drop by more than 500 inmates over the next two years as sentencing changes and other reforms come into place, according to the state’s October Corrections Population Forecast  released by the Office of Economic Analysis.
The forecast is dramatically different from the one predicted six months ago that said there would be a rising population over the next decade, costing the state $600 million.
Reforms from the legislature in 2013, however, will spare the state millions in prison costs. About $15 million in the current budget cycle will go to local governments in charge of putting plans into place that will keep criminals out of jail, according to The Oregonian , and an estimated prison savings of $67 million in the 2015 to 2017 budget cycle would instead be spent on public safety efforts by local governments.
Gov. John Kitzhaber pushed to stop prison population growth by reforming sentences and investing more in local public safety. As a result, the state Public Safety Commission proposed that the state roll back sentences for some Measure 11 crimes, which account for a large portion of the expansion of Oregon’s prison population. This led to HB 3194, a public safety reform legislation that includes more modest sentence reforms for crimes such as marijuana possession or felony driving while suspended. In some cases, offenders are only required to serve probation instead of prison time.
The reforms are predicted to result in 1,000 fewer inmates over the next decade. That number is the equivalent of a medium-sized prison, which means the state corrections department can postpone opening the medium-security Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras. It can also delay plans by at least five years of opening the state’s 15th prison in Junction City.
Other predictions included in the forecast are:
• The prison population will peak next month at 14,642 and drop to 14,132 by Jan. 2016, a decline of 510 inmates.
• Over the next decade, 300 inmates will benefit from a shift allowing them to move out of prison into transitional programs the last 90 days of their sentence. Currently, they can move out no more than a month before completing their sentence.
• Modified sentences for drug crimes over the next decade will 344 offenders who otherwise would have gone to prison. Instead, they likely will serve local jail time or be put on probation.
• A reduction in the sentences imposed under Measure 57 for identity theft and third-degree robbery spares another 177.