During his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Evers was vocal about criminal justice reform, outlining a number of policies he would like to see changed and saying that reducing the prison population by 50 percent is a “goal that’s worth accomplishing.”
At the request of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the Wisconsin Parole Commission’s leader resigned Friday after mounting Republican criticism over the commission’s plans to parole a man who served less than 25 years of an 80-year sentence for stabbing his wife to death — parole that was later rescinded, this was his fifth review for parole. Commission chair John Tate submitted his resignation “effective end-of-business” Friday, according to a resignation letter provided to the Wisconsin State Journal. Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback confirmed the governor had asked for and received Tate’s resignation.
“In my time as Chair-designee, I have given my best effort to be fair, just, and understanding,” Tate said in his resignation letter. “Fair, in working to ensure that everyone who has a voice in the parole process is equally heard. Just, in adhering to the statutory and administrative guidelines of parole and using evidence-based practices; not being driven by politics or public perception. And understanding that everyone has a unique perspective and a personal experience that matters.”
“The difficulty could not be understated, as no parole decision is easy and no decision can ever truly satisfy all interested parties,” he added.
Mr. Tate understood people are more than the choices we regret.
Mr. Tate came into his position as a reformer. It was only in 2019 when EXPO of Wisconsin celebrated the appointment of Mr. Tate. WPR quoted us, “We haven’t had a functioning parole board for quite some time, and just having a person appointed to that position, in general, is good and shows the current administration is working towards reducing the prison population,” said EXPO. “That’s one major way we can do it.”
To say we feel dismayed and discouraged is an understatement. During former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, prison reform advocates blamed the governor and the commission for greatly reducing the number of people being released under the old laws. Data from the state Department of Corrections released to WPR in October showed between 2013 and 2017, there were 9,985 parole hearings held, but only 865 people were released as a result.
Walker also left the commission’s chair position vacant since 2017, the same year he recommended reducing the body to a single member in his state budget.
Tate said he read commission reports during Walker’s tenure that said people in the care of the DOC “needed more time” in the prison system.
“Just tacking on time for the sake of tacking on time serves nobody,” Tate said. “It doesn’t serve taxpayers who are expecting us to be judicious with their dollars. It doesn’t serve the community very well.”
“Particularly, as it relates to criminal justice, we know that the human brain, at least for males, doesn’t stop developing until the early 20s,” said Tate. “And then when we also look at who’s really in the prison systems, it’s often folks who committed crimes before their brain was fully developed.”
Tate said many of the people eligible for parole have been in prison since they were in their teens or early 20s. Now, as adults, he said they may be able to become productive members of their communities.
“Either we believe that people are redeemable or we don’t,” said Tate. “Hardness or softness on crime should have no relevance on whether we believe that there is redemption for individuals.”
If justice, fairness, reason, or any higher-minded values held sway in Wisconsin, everyone serving under the old law, all of them, would be released by now.
EXPO of Wisconsin