Transition fairs held as new law allows thousands of inmates across Oklahoma early release

Oklahoma State Reformatory

GRANITE, Okla. (TNN) - Oklahoma’s criminal justice system is in the middle of a big overhaul, resulting in thousands of inmates across the state having their sentences commuted.

In 2016, citizens voted yes on State Question 780, which reduced the punishments for certain drug possession and property crimes. Earlier in 2019, Governor Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1269, making that law apply also apply to inmates already incarcerated.

"It’s not real until I step out. I want to get hopeful, but I don’t want to get too hopeful for it. It’s kind of a hope for the best expect the worst kind of situation,” said inmate Eric Vandenhuerk.

Vandenhuerk has been in prison for three years for drug possession. Wednesday, he was one of fifty inmates housed in Granite who took part in a resource fair aimed at helping them adjust to the outside world.

"A lot of people are going to help with the employment, help me find a job when I get out, I don’t have any clothes or anything like that so a lot of people are going to help me with clothes and things like that. I think it’s going to be really helpful as long as they follow through with some of the stuff, they’re going to do for us,” Vandenhuerk said.

At the Oklahoma State Reformatory, they routinely assist inmates as they transition from prison to society. Usually, that process takes place over several months. Because of the new law, that process has been expedited. That’s what prompted resource fairs, like the one Wednesday, to happen across the state.

"Some of these guys have been incarcerated for quite some time. They have a learning curve. They don’t get technology, they don’t have these resources so these guys coming to them is tremendous and shows their support and that they are behind them for the mental health, the medical, the substance abuse and any aftercare needs they have,” said Danika Toole, a case manager for the Oklahoma State Reformatory.

The new law goes into effect on November 1.

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