Palm Beach County, FL

Summary

Palm Beach County has made a significant investment in safely reducing the jail population by addressing system inefficiencies and targeting support for communities disproportionately affected by the justice system. This investment has resulted in an incarceration rate 36% below the national average, but there is still more room for progress. Notable initiatives include the establishment of a Pretrial Services Agency, Drug Court, and reentry programs.

In its 31-year history, the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) has facilitated reform efforts for all facets of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, courts, and corrections. CJC members understand that an overused jail is a symptom of an inefficient and ineffective system. It consumes 14 cents of every county tax dollar—funds that are needed in other areas. In addition, studies show that pretrial detention causes disruption in the stability of families and communities. It leads to higher re-arrest rates and produces worse case outcomes usually involving incarceration.

To build on past efforts, Palm Beach County was awarded $3.7 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge between 2015 and 2019 to implement strategies to reduce the jail population by 23% by the end of 2021 and addressing racial and ethnic disparities. The CJC developed a comprehensive plan for local justice system reform including the following key strategies to create a safer, more equitable and effective system:

  • Safely reducing the pretrial jail population through the use of a validated risk assessment instrument and enhanced pretrial services;
  • Improving case processing efficiency to reduce the length of stay for those awaiting case disposition in jail;
  • Ending the cycle of incarceration and homelessness for frequent low-level justice-involved individuals who are experiencing homelessness and have substance use and behavioral disorders;
  • Identifying and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in our jail population;
  • Reducing failures to appear for missed court dates and pretrial/probation supervision reporting appointments; and,
  • Building data capacity to allow us to continuously analyze and improve our system.

Through data-driven innovations Palm Beach County will further reduce jail bed usage while ensuring the county prioritizes public safety and provides access to critically-needed services for those most in need. Through the end of 2021, the county will employ: an increased focus on smart release options for pretrial inmates; improved case processing efficiencies for pretrial inmates who are not released; quicker release for those who are experiencing homeless or suffering from substance use or behavior disorders; a targeted project to address frequent users of the jail, individuals experiencing homelessness, and behavioral health needs; a text-based reminder system to reduce failures to appear for court and reduce missed reporting appointments that can end in violations of supervision; and measures to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, including implicit bias training for all criminal justice agencies.

  • Despite having an incarceration rate 36% below the national average, there is still more room for reducing the Palm Beach County jail population.
  • Palm Beach County’s jail costs taxpayers 14 cents of every county tax dollar.
  • African Americans are significantly overrepresented in the county jail, making up 19% of the county population but 54% of the jail population.
  • African Americans (37 days) and Hispanics (31 days) have a much longer average length of stay as compared to whites (21 days).
  • Some people frequent the Palm Beach County jail with no clear path for ending their cycle of incarceration. In 2019, 450 individuals were admitted to the jail three or more times using 16,124 bed days, staying 61 days on average, and costing county taxpayers $2,176,740 (number of bed days x $135 per day). One-third of these individuals were experiencing homeless.
  • In 2019, 3,417 people were admitted to the Palm Beach County jail for a Failure to Appear for court, representing 13% of all jail admissions. Most of those admissions had non-violent felonies or other lower-level underlying charges.
  • About one-third of defendants on either pretrial or probation supervision violate the terms of their supervision by missing reporting appointments with their supervision officers, resulting in a warrant for their arrest and reentry to our jail.
  • Expand our text message court reminder system to reduce failures to appear and violations of community supervision to prevent warrants causing low-level defendants from spending time in jail.
  • Expand our PalmFUSE (Frequent Users Systems Engagement) project to break the cycle of incarceration and homelessness for frequent low-level defendants with behavioral health challenges.
  • Improve our validated Risk Assessment Instrument and explore further options for smart pretrial release methods to eliminate unnecessary incarceration and reduce the average length of stay in jail.
  • Continue Initial Case Conference Hearings and assess timeframes and employ strategies to reduce the length of stay in jail.
  • Continue our dedicated staff position to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities.
  • Broaden and deepen our engagement with the community.
  • Take the location for felony probation reporting closer to defendants making it more convenient for them in order to reduce violations for missed reporting appointments and reentry to jail.
  • Build greater data capacity to analyze and understand the system and address issues.

Supported with $3.7 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Palm Beach County will continue to implement forward-looking, smart solutions to achieve a 23% reduction in the local jail population by the end of 2021.

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