By J. Todd Foster
of The Oregonian staff
SALEM - The latest forecast of Oregon's prison population in 2006 shows a drop of more than 2,700 inmates from previous estimates, state officials said Thursday.
The state Office of Economic Analysis predicts the state will need 14,976 prison beds, rather than 17,752. The prison population was 8,561 inmates Jan. 1.
The analysis said the decrease is because state courts have sentenced fewer inmates than expected due to the mandatory minimums set in Measure 11. It also credits Senate Bill 1145 with the decrease. That law requires inmates serving shorter sentences to serve them in county jails rather than state prisons.
The slowdown in growth could give the state breathing room in its $1 billion plan to build 10 prisons in the next 10 years.
"I'm ecstatic," said Sen. Jeannette Hamby, chairwoman of a legislative subcommittee on public safety. "We're not under this frantic rush to build."
But Dave Cook, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, stressed that the prison population forecast could change tomorrow.
"These numbers are very fluid," Cook said. "It all depends on what happens in local communities and how many arrests are made."
The Corrections Department began its campaign for new prisons after hearing predictions that the inmate population would double by 2006. Four prisons have been sited: three more will be this year.
The budget office releases prison population forecasts every April and October to help the corrections department in strategic planning. The April report was outlined at a meeting of Hamby's Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety/Regulation.
The analysis said Measure 11, enacted in April 195, is responsible for 80 percent of the decrease in prison population numbers. Although the measure mandated longer terms for violent criminals, offenders are 23 percent fewer than anticipated.
The rest of the prison population decrease came from Senate Bill 1145, enacted Jan. 1 to put offenders in county jails if their sentences are a year or less, easing the burden on state prisons.
In addition, counties undergoing jail expansions are renting fewer state prison beds, Cook said.
"There's no way to predict whether that will change tomorrow or next week," he said. "It is premature to predict what change may be made to the schedule for siting and building prisons."
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