With hundreds of inmates eligible for special commutations now that the drug and property crimes that sent them to prison are misdemeanors, Oklahoma is trying something new.
Around 80 inmates, the majority of them women, attended a transition fair Thursday at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, with nonprofits and agencies coming to them to offer information on and take applications for services like sober living facilities, addiction treatment, family counseling and job placement.
"This fair is the Department of Corrections, and the governor’s office, and pardon and parole, and community partners coming together to say, 'What can we do for these releasing inmates or potentially releasing inmates to give them the greatest chance of success at reentry?'" said Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director Steve Bickley.
Inmates typically get a resource guide and are connected with a case manager before they leave DOC custody. Bickley said the DOC does a good job at helping inmates prepare for release, but they often prefer an external partner’s help.
"And so, I think this is critically important, and it’s a message of hope that when you leave here, there’s people whose sole mission is to help you be successful. That’s a great message, an important message," Bickley said.
Chaney Buzzard is on the special commutation docket and said while she has a family to rejoin, many inmates don’t.
"I think it’s awesome because there’s a lot of girls that don’t have places to go back to or places that aren’t good to go back to, and it can give them good ground to start on," Buzzard said.
Almost 900 Oklahoma inmates are eligible for special commutations starting Nov. 1 thanks to a state law making retroactive reduced sentences for low-level drug and property offenses voters approved by passing State Question 780 in 2016.