Palm Beach County, FL

Change in Jail Population 18%

Action Areas Community Engagement Courts Defense Counsel Frequent Utilizers Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

While Palm Beach County’s jail has not been overcrowded, too many individuals with low-level offenses who pose minimal risk to public safety are incarcerated. In addition, significant racial and ethnic disparities persist in the jail population. Specifically, jail admissions and length of stay are both disproportionate for people of color.

Palm Beach County’s jail is the biggest mental health care provider in the county. People with behavioral health issues, many of whom are homeless, regularly cycle in and out of the jail with no clear path for ending that cycle.

Strategies

Palm Beach County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

01

COURT REMINDERS

To reduce failures to appear in court and at mandatory appointments for individuals on pretrial supervision and probation, the county started a program to send text message reminders to defendants for court dates and required appointments.

02

HOLISTIC DEFENSE

The Public Defender’s Office established new positions including a client navigator and social services coordinator, who are responsible for identifying individuals with behavioral health or housing needs at first appearance and connecting them with community-based services to facilitate pretrial success and reduce recidivism.

03

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Palm Beach County has been engaging the local community with a series of policing forums and “Dialogue To Change” meetings. Specific policy proposals stemming from these community forums will be presented to stakeholders for consideration and implementation.

04

REDUCING RACIAL DISPARITIES

In an effort to meaningfully reduce racial and ethnic disparities in its justice system, the county sought to infuse all its strategies with a racial equity lens. This started with establishing a Racial Equity Team, which is responsible for identifying areas of disparity and generating strategies to combat inequities.

05

FREQUENT UTILIZERS PROGRAM

The PalmFUSE (Frequent Users Systems Engagement) project was a pilot program to provide housing and case management for unhoused individuals with behavioral health issues who were frequently arrested and cycled in and out of the jail. The program is being expanded in 2021.

06

CASE PROCESSING

The county has worked to increase efficiencies in case processing by bringing individuals who are incarcerated while awaiting trial into court sooner for hearings. The goal was to resolve cases more quickly and reduce unnecessarily long stays in the jail.

07

ENHANCED DATA

The county collaborated with the local Clerk and Palm Beach County Sheriff to gain more robust and efficient access to court and jail data. Enhanced data will allow the county to better address challenges in its justice system. A public-facing criminal justice data dashboard is in development.

Results

As a result of the above strategies, Palm Beach County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Palm Beach County (2016-2021)

18.1% from baseline

More Results

Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, the jail population in Palm Beach County has been significantly reduced while keeping the community safe.

The county’s PalmFUSE program has demonstrated that housing frequent utilizers and providing them with wraparound services creates stability and ensures that people with behavioral health issues do not cycle in and out of jail. Launched as a pilot, the initial PalmFUSE project provided housing and case management for 12 unhoused individuals with behavioral health issues who were frequently arrested and cycled in and out of jail. Before the program, the 12 participants had been arrested 64 times collectively in the two years before they were housed. The pilot was completed in 2020. All participants have remained in housing, and no one has been rearrested since joining the program. A new contract has been signed to expand the program to 25 participants in 2021.

The county’s text message court date reminder system has successfully reduced the number of warrants issued for failure to appear by 62% for Public Defender clients, as of December 2020.

Initial Case Conference (ICC) hearings are designed to decrease the average length of stay for incarcerated individuals charged with second- and third-degree felonies. COVID-19 has unfortunately affected the program by increasing length of stay. Further research is being conducted to measure the program’s impact as court schedules return to normal.

There is productive collaboration among key stakeholders, including judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, public defenders, and community members, which has contributed to the progress to achieve a more fair and equitable use of jails.

Remaining Challenges

Palm Beach County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

The major challenge the county faces is significantly reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. The county is doubling down on the work to address disparities moving forward.

A second challenge is to examine changes the county has made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to determine if they are effective and should be continued after the pandemic has subsided. These changes include amending the administrative bond schedule and scheduling bond hearings more quickly.

Lead Agency

Criminal Justice Commission

Contact Information

Bert Winkler
bwinkler@pbcgov.org

Regenia Herring
rherring@pbcgov.org

Partners

Judges of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, State Attorney, Public Defender, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Multiple municipal police departments, Felony and misdemeanor probation departments, Pretrial Services, Clerk and Comptroller, Community Partners of Southeast Florida, Local hospitals, The Lord’s Place, Gulfstream Goodwill, Healthier Neighbors

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