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Palm Beach County Reentry Summit works to successfully reintegrate inmates into society after prison release

Education, advocacy, resources top topics at conference
Posted at 3:42 PM, Oct 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-07 18:23:56-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Joe Biden is pardoning thousands of people convicted federally of simple marijuana possession charges, putting a spotlight on the barriers inmates face when they are released from prison.

From housing to employment, mental health care and overall reintegration into society — there is no shortage of obstacles.

WPTV looked at the stigma attached to people being released from prison and how pardons like this one have an impact on society.

RELATED: 'Simple possession' pardon sparks controversy in West Palm Beach

Overall, statistics show that 95% of all inmates will return to society after incarceration.

The Palm Beach County Reentry Summit was held this week in West Palm Beach, bringing together people from more than 32 states and beyond.

Florida recidivism rates from 2008-2017
A study released by the Florida Department of Corrections showed the rates that inmates returned to prison since 2008.

Locally, 1,200 adults are released from prison each year. The summit aims to show why the odds are stacked against them and what can be done to change that.

Education, advocacy and resources were the big topics at the center of the summit.

The U.S. has one of the highest recidivism rates with more than 75% of prisoners re-arrested within five years of release.

A study in Florida released by the Department of Corrections shows that 25% of men released from prison will be re-incarcerated over three years.

Cassandra Atkin-Plunk, the co-chair of the summit, is also an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University. Her area of research is the re-entry and reintegration of individuals.

Cassandra Atkin-Plunk, co-chair of Palm Beach County Reentry Summit
Cassandra Atkin-Plunk speaks abou the difficulties that inmates can face getting a job after they are released.

"We continue to create the stigma every time we ask somebody to indicate on a job application or on a housing application or on an application to get into college, that they have previously been incarcerated," Atkin-Plunk said.

Many people at the summit who shared their past agree the lack of opportunities after release is a huge contributor to recidivism.

Amlak-I Foley, a speaker at the conference, was arrested when he was 17 years old and shared what the biggest obstacle was for him when he was released.

"The biggest challenge for me was opportunities, the gaps in resources," Foley said. "What could have assisted greatly in those challenges, is something that we are doing here at the West Palm Beach summit, is focusing on peer mentorship, the individuals who've lived the experience."

Amlak-I Foley, speaker at Palm Beach County Reentry Summit
Amlak-I Foley outlines the resources that inmates need in order to have a successful transition to back to society after leaving prison.

Foley is now dedicated to serving as a mentor to others.

Many at the summit have said Biden's move to pardon thousands with federal convictions for simple marijuana possessions is considered a step in the right direction.

Stephanie Taylor-Thompson was pardoned in Idaho and Montana for drug-related charges in her past. She said more needs to be done to eliminate barriers for those re-entering society.

Stephanie Taylor-Thompson, pardoned but still can't pass background check
Stephanie Taylor-Thompson discusses the difficulties inmates face once they are released from prison.

"I can tell you that even with two full pardons, I still cannot pass a background check," Taylor-Thompson said.

According to data from the Palm Beach County jail blotter in the last week, out of 80 drug-related arrests by local agencies, eight people booked in jail were charged with possession of marijuana less than 20 grams, among other charges.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said the following about the president's move:

"I support the president’s actions concerning prior federal cases of simple marijuana possession. More importantly for the future, I favor lowering the classification of marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug, which is the same as heroin and crack cocaine."

Crediting his mom for his success after incarceration, Foley said there needs to be more mentoring opportunities for those exiting the criminal justice system.

"I'm going to tell you what my mother told me please don't make this place cause you to have a cold heart cause nothing can be done with a cold heart," Foley said.

The Controlled Substances Act made marijuana a Schedule One drug in 1970. Since then, Florida has seen the total jail population increase by more than 500%, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Numbers released Friday from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show misdemeanor marijuana possession charges are declining in Florida. However, there were still more than 11,000 arrests for this charge last year.

Biden is urging governors in every state to pardon marijuana users. WPTV reached out to the office of Gov. Ron Desantis for comment. We are waiting to hear back.

READ: Marijuana possession arrests by county in Florida since 2018