Pulling Criminal Justice Practitioners Together

Article excerpt

Effective management of jail populations requires involvement from all facets of the criminal justice system -- law enforcement, courts and corrections. Jail officials are at the mercy of decisions made outside their purview -- decisions that impact their populations. Jail admissions and releases are determined by laws made by the legislature, enforced by police and upheld by the court. So what is a jail official to do? How can the impact these decisions have on jails be factored into criminal justice system policy-level decision-making?

To answer these questions, one must understand the environment in which the criminal justice system functions. Many have come to define the criminal justice system as a nonsystem because of its fragmented components that work as adversaries. A system implies parts that work together, each with a specified purpose, all acting to achieve a common goal. The adversarial nature of the criminal justice system places practitioners on opposing sides of issues inside and outside the courtroom. Police officers and prosecutors commonly are pitted against public defenders and the private defense bar. Judges, for the most part, try to maintain impartiality on all issues. Corrections professionals as a whole seem to look at the system from a neutral perspective. The positions they take often depend on the impact they will make on their work environments.

Given these differing viewpoints, it seems a monumental task to engage these agencies in cooperative efforts. Separately, most criminal justice leaders lack the motivation to lead the charge for systemwide efficacy. And those leaders who do often are viewed with suspicion. This begs the need for an independent convener to serve as a catalyst to bring these agencies together.

Creating a Catalyst

To address this need, the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners created an entity in 1988 to mend the fragmented criminal justice system and alleviate the frustration shared by the government and private sector business leaders. With support of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, the board created (by county ordinance) a 33-member entity called the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission (CJC). CJC is a unique partnership with 21 public sector members and 12 private sector members. Public sector members serve by virtue as heads of federal, state and local criminal justice and government agencies. Private sector members are nominated by the economic council and confirmed by the county commission for three-year terms. Private sector members serve as chair and vice chair of CJC in order to balance leadership across criminal justice agencies. Public sector members include:

* Chief judge;

* State attorney;

* Public defender;

* Clerk of the court;

* Special agent in charge, FBI;

* Resident agent in charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms;

* Special agent in charge, Drug Enforcement Administration;

* Managing assistant, U.S. attorney;

* Administrative judge, Juvenile Division;

* President, Chiefs of Police Association;

* Member, Criminal Defense Lawyers Association;

* President, Crime Prevention Officers' Association;

* Commissioner, Board of County Commissioners;

* Member, League of Cities;

* Member, Legislative Delegation;

* District manager, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice;

* Circuit administrator, Florida Department of Corrections;

* Special agent in charge, Florida Department of Law Enforcement;

* Member, school board;

* Sheriff, Palm Beach County; and

* Chief, West Palm Beach Police Department.

To maintain neutrality, CJC staff are county employees serving under the Board of County Commissioners as a county agency. This small professional staff meet the necessary research and planning functions, facilitate meetings and follow through on all recommendations made. …