That is what the California Department of Corrections officials estimated the prison population would be in 2000, back in 1991 according to a government documented cited by Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins in the prescient 1992 monograph Prison Population and Criminal Justice Policy in California. Instead, the population was 161,401, down slightly from the previous year, the first such drop in 23 years. But growth would continue, peaking at around 180,000 in 2006 before declining modestly in the last two years to 171,000.
While CDCR officials were boasting of the decline at the UC Hastings conference on the California Correctional crisis last week, this is still nearly 200 percent of capacity system wide and the costs of which have outstripped higher education (while billions more are being ordered by federal courts). Still, it is sobering how much growth the system itself anticipated in the early 1990s as the strategy of warehousing tens of thousands more Californians convicted of crimes in state prisons at state expense reached its peak. If we have been spared that additional growth, and the additional half dozen or so prisons we would have had to build (to remain on double that designed capacity), it was not because our politicians stopped pandering on crime (the 1990s saw three-strikes and scores of sentence enhancements) but as Frank Zimring has argued, because crime went down quite dramatically (as it did all over the country).