Palm Beach County using MacArthur grant to fights recidivism rates

Delray Beach man arrested for 23rd time
Posted at 7:20 PM, Dec 16, 2016

A Delray Beach man is back behind bars after his 23rd arrest. Oscar Rowell now faces burglary and theft charges.

Detectives arrested the 58-year-old last week for breaking into a home and stealing a woman’s purse.

Because of all his arrests, Rowell has spent more than 20 years living in jails to prisons.

Judge Jeff Colbath oversees Palm Beach County’s criminal court. He admitted recidivism exists. But he called Rowell an extreme example.

“We set about trying to figure out how we can put systems in place so we can make it easier for these people when they get it out,” he explained. 

Colbath said Palm Beach County is ahead of the curve on helping convicts stay on the straight and narrow after incarceration. Offenders from the county can voluntarily participate in a transition program in the county as their jail or prison term ends.

The program connects inmates with social services, helps them hone job skills, and creates an individual plan for reintegrating into society.

The results show a drastic drop in the number of convicts who reoffend. According to county statistics, of the offenders who leave the jail, 51 percent are rearrested. But if an offender participates in the transition - or reentry - program,  only 21 percent find themselves back behind bars.

The numbers of similar for felons released from prison. 68 percent of the released inmates end up behind bars if they don’t participate in the program. But of the inmates who participate in the reentry program before leaving prison, only 21 percent re-offend. 

“At the risk of being a bad host, we don’t want them to come back,” Colbath said.

Right now, Palm Beach County is one of 20 jurisdictions receiving funding through the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. The first stage of the program is to study better ways to treat repeat offenders.

“The buzz phrase is we no longer want to be tougher on crime, we want to be smarter on crime,” Colbath said.

A smarter approach could save another victim and keep an offender from falling back behind bars.