MIAMI — Under fire for his decision to let Jeffrey Epstein out on work release despite dozens of sexual abuse allegations, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has called for a review of his jail’s work release program — not by an independent law enforcement agency, but by a panel of Palm Beach politicians and business people.

Until the review by the Criminal Justice Commission of Palm Beach County is complete, Bradshaw will not allow new detainees to enter the program, said a spokeswoman in a news release late Friday afternoon.

Bradshaw, widely recognized as the most powerful politician in Palm Beach County, is a member of the CJC.

A Florida state senator, Lauren Book, called last week for Gov. Ron DeSantis to order an independent investigation of Bradshaw’s seeming preferential treatment of Epstein when he served a stint in the county jail a decade ago.. She wants the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct the probe. Bradshaw had previously announced an internal affairs inquiry to look at how his subordinates handled the work release. He later announced that the IA case had become a criminal matter.

The moves by Bradshaw fall considerably short of what Book, herself a sex abuse survivor, has sought. The FDLE, which recently completed an investigation of the school resource officer who responded to the Parkland shootings, is an independent law enforcement organization capable of making arrests and filing criminal charges. The CJC can conduct studies and make policy recommendations.

Neither Book nor DeSantis could be reached late Friday.

Bradshaw has faced escalating criticism over his handling of Epstein since the part-time Palm Beach resident — he also owns homes in Manhattan, Paris, New Mexico and on his private island in the Caribbean — spent a year in the county jail on prostitution-related charges. While serving the time, the hedge fund manager was permitted to leave the stockade for 12 hours a day, six days a week. Each morning, Epstein’s valet picked him up at the lockup and deposited him at a well-appointed downtown West Palm Beach office. Epstein was supervised by a deputy whose salary he reimbursed.

Epstein, now 66, went to jail rather than state prison only because of a controversial deal worked out between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern Florida and Epstein’s lawyers. Under the agreement, prosecutors tore up a much more serious 53-page federal sex-trafficking indictment.

Last year, The Miami Herald published Perversion of Justice, a series of stories examining the so-called non-prosecution agreement, including a demand by Epstein’s legal team that his victims not be informed of the deal. Eight months later, the FBI arrested Epstein on sex-trafficking charges.

The charges involve his activities at his New York and Florida estates. He allegedly ran a sexual pyramid, luring underage girls to his homes to give a massage in exchange for $200 to $300. The girls told detectives they were then coerced into having sex. Some said they were paid additional money to recruit other girls from parties and malls.

Epstein is being held in a Manhattan jail without bond.

The fallout from the Epstein case has cost a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet his job. Alexander Acosta, who as U.S. attorney agreed to shelve the indictment a decade ago, resigned last month as labor secretary amid intense criticism.

Under the current Palm Beach County work release program, “inmates are allowed to exit the facility for work or training activities but must return at a designated time for nightly housing,” states the Sheriff’s Office website. Sex offenders are barred from work release under the current rules.

The ultimate goal for the program is to reintegrate inmates to society on “an incremental basis.”

The Criminal Justice Commission will review eligibility criteria for the program, conditions for participants and supervision protocols. The CJC will also measure the program against established best practices for work release programs and analyze the cost effectiveness of the program.

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©2019 Miami Herald

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