Palm Beach County has made a significant investment in jail population control by reducing system inefficiencies and targeting support for populations with disproportionate jail use. This investment has resulted in an incarceration rate 58% below the national average, but there is still more room for reducing the Palm Beach County jail. Notable initiatives include the establishment of a Pretrial Services Agency, Drug Court, and reentry programs. In its 30-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—an immense amount of funds that are needed in other areas. In addition, studies prove that pretrial detention causes disruption in the stability of families and communities. It leads to higher re-arrest rates and produces worse case outcomes with more back-end incarceration.
To build on past efforts, Palm Beach County was awarded $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2017 to implement strategies to reduce the jail population by 17% over the next two years, saving county tax dollars and improving outcomes for those involved in the criminal justice system. The CJC developed a comprehensive plan for local justice system reform including five key strategies to achieve this goal and create a safer, more effective system:
- safely reducing our pretrial jail population through the use of a validated risk assessment instrument and enhanced pretrial services;
- improving case processing efficiency;
- ending the cycle of incarceration and homelessness for frequent low-level offenders with mental health issues;
- identifying and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in our jail population; and
- building data capacity to allow us to continuously analyze and improve our system.
Over the next two years the county will employ: an increased focus on risk assessment and smart release options for pretrial inmates; improved case processing efficiencies for pretrial inmates who are not released; quicker access for those inmates awaiting a treatment bed in the community; measures to prevent new, and rid dockets of old, warrants; a targeted project to address frequent users of the jail, homeless and behavioral health systems; and measures to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, including implicit bias training for all criminal justice agencies.