Forecasting for Prisons and Jails

  • Bruce D. McDonaldIIIEmail author
  • J. Winn Decker
  • Matthew James Hunt
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Public Debt, Spending, and Revenue book series (PDSR)


The criminal population of U.S. prisons has increased dramatically in recent years, leaving policymakers with difficult decisions in regard to the allocation of resources and how to plan for the long-term care of the criminal population. Although prison forecasts are conducted by every state, no consensus has emerged on how the population is best projected. This chapter seeks to provide guidance on this issue by examining the literature on prison forecasting. Using the success and failure of the models established in the literature as a guide, we provide a series of best practices for the forecasting of the prison population.


  1. Berk, R. (2008). Forecasting methods in crime and justice. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 4(1), 219–238. Scholar
  2. Blumstein, A., & Beck, A. J. (1999). Population growth in US prisons, 1980–1996. Crime and Justice, 26, 17–61. Scholar
  3. Christle, C. A., Jolivette, K., & Nelson, C. M. (2005). Breaking the school to prison pipeline: Identifying school risk and protective factors for youth delinquency. Exceptionality, 13(2), 69–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Donnelly, N., & Wan, W.-Y. (2016). Adult prison population size in New South Wales: Comparative forecasts. BOCSAR NSW Crime and Justice Bulletin, 199, 1–8.Google Scholar
  5. Fineran, S., & Barry, T. (2017). Iowa prison population forecast FY 2017–FY 2027. Retrieved from
  6. Gamage, D. (2010). Preventing state budget crises: Managing the fiscal volatility problem. California Law Review, 98(3), 749–812.Google Scholar
  7. Glaeser, E. L., Sacerdote, B., & Scheinkman, J. A. (1996). Crime and social interactions. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 111(2), 507–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Joyce, N. M. (1992). A view of the future: The effect of policy on prison population growth. Crime & Delinquency, 38(3), 357–368. Scholar
  9. Justice Center. (2017). Appendix D. North Dakota justice reinvestment policy framework. Justice reinvestment in North Dakota: Policy framework. Washington, DC: Council of State Governments.Google Scholar
  10. Klay, W. E., & Vonasek, J. A. (2008). Consensus forecasting for budgeting in theory and practice. In J. Sun & T. D. Lynch (Eds.), Government budget forecasting: Theory and practice (pp. 379–392). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kyckelhahn, T. (2014). State corrections expenditures, FY 1982–2010. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice. Retrieved from Scholar
  12. Legislative Budget Board. (2015). Adult and juvenile correction population projection. The State of Texas. Retrieved from
  13. Martinez, P. E. (2009). Projecting felony intakes to the justice system. The Prison Journal, 89(4), 383–400. Scholar
  14. Marvell, T. B., & Moody, C. E. (1996). Determinate sentencing and abolishing parole: The long-term impacts on prisons and crime. Criminology, 34(1), 107–128. Scholar
  15. McDonald, B. D. (2015). A “dirty” approach to efficient revenue forecasting. Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs, 1(1), 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McDonald, B. D., & Elwaer, J. (2015). Forecasting the prison population. Paper presented at the Annual Midwest Public Affairs Conference, Milwaukee, WI.Google Scholar
  17. Mikesell, J. L., & Ross, J. M. (2014). State revenue forecasts and political acceptance: The value of consensus forecasting in the budget process. Public Administration Review, 74(2), 188–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mullis, N., Carey, M., Silbaugh, L., Pino, L., Sobetski, G., Watkins, K., & Grunlien, D. (2016). Focus Colorado: Economic and revenue forecast. Colorado Legislative Council Staff Economic Section. Retrieved from
  19. New Mexico Sentencing Commission. (2015). New Mexico prison population forecast: FY 2016–FY 2025. New Mexico Sentencing Commission. Retrieved from
  20. North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission. (2018). Prison population projections: Fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2027. Retrieved from
  21. Office of Economic Analysis. (2017). Corrections population forecast. Retrieved from
  22. Office of Policy Management. (2017). Prison population projection. The Connecticut Statistical Analysis Center. Retrieved from
  23. Pew Charitable Trusts. (2017). Public safety, public spending: Forecasting America’s prison population 2007–2011. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 19(4), 234–252.Google Scholar
  24. Porter, L. C., Bushway, S. D., Tsao, H. S., & Smith, H. L. (2016). How the US prison boom has changed the age distribution of the prison population. Criminology, 54(1), 30–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2000). The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime: A meta-analysis. Criminology, 38(3), 931–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rich, T. F., & Barnett, A. I. (1985). Model-based US prison population projections. Public Administration Review, 45, 780–789. Scholar
  27. Snell, R. K. (2011). State experiences with annual and biennial budgeting. Washington, DC. Retrieved from
  28. South Dakota Corrections Commission. (2016, May 18). Corrections commission minutes. Retrieved from
  29. Stephan, J. J. (1999). State prison expenditures’ 1996. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from
  30. Swanson, D. A., Schlottmann, A., & Schmidt, B. (2010). Forecasting the population of census tracts by age and sex: An example of the Hamilton–Perry method in action. Population Research and Policy Review, 29(1), 47–63. Scholar
  31. Tsay, R. S. (2010). Analysis of financial time series (3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. United States General Accounting Office. (1984). Federal, District of Columbia, and states future prison and correctional institution populations and capacities (GAO/GGD-84-56). Washington, DC: United States General Accounting Office.Google Scholar
  33. Wagner, P., & Rabuy, B. (2017). Mass incarceration: The whole pie 2017. Northampton, MA. Retrieved from
  34. Wan, W.-Y., Moffatt, S., Xie, Z., Corben, S., & Weatherburn, D. (2013). Forecasting prison populations using sentencing and arrest data. BOCSAR NSW Crime and Justice Bulletin, 174, 1–12.Google Scholar
  35. Williams, D. W., & Calabrese, T. D. (2016). The status of budget forecasting. Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs, 2(2), 127–160. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce D. McDonaldIII
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Winn Decker
    • 1
  • Matthew James Hunt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Public AdministrationNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations