Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels called on Gov. Tony Evers to immediately suspend paroles and pardons in Wisconsin on Monday, even though some paroles are legally required.
Michels accused Evers of releasing “dangerous criminals” in a letter that demanded the Democratic governor “suspend the acts” of the Wisconsin Parole Commission and Governor’s Pardon Advisory Board.
“These criminals deserved to serve their entire sentences,” Michels wrote. “Many of those you’ve granted early parole should have remained locked up for life, but they are living freely among us now.”
Evers' spokesperson Britt Cudaback responded to Michels’ demand on Monday. He explained Michels’ request was illegal and called it an “uninformed stunt to score political points,” according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
“The Governor of Wisconsin has no authority to suspend or end the parole process or the Parole Commission — attempting to do so would violate state law and the U.S. Constitution,” Cudaback added.
Michels has lauded himself as being “tough on crime” and repeatedly attacked Evers for being too “soft on crime” regarding pardons and paroles in ads throughout his campaign.
Yet, of the more than 600 pardons Evers has granted during his term, the vast majority have been to low-level, non-violent offenders, according to the Associated Press.
An independent parole commission
Michels campaign spokesperson Anna Kelly claimed Evers has the ability to stop the work of the Parole Commission by rescinding his appointment of acting commission chair Christopher Blythe, the Associated Press reported.
Blythe was appointed by Evers following the resignation of previous chairman John Tate II in June over a controversial decision to grant Parole to Douglas Balsewicz, who was convicted for the murder of his wife in 1997.
He currently serves as the acting chair, having never been confirmed by the Senate.
While Evers ultimately has the final say on who receives a pardon, the work of the Parole Commission is intentionally independent from the governor’s office, according to UW-Madison Law School professor emeritus Kenneth Streit. This was intended to depoliticize parole decisions.
“The design of the [Parole Commission] is that it is to be independent of the Governor. This is intended to not involve the Governor in favoring or opposing releases. Governors cannot fire commissioners [without] cause,” Streit said in an email.
Wisconsin’s pool of inmates eligible for parole has shrunk since the enactment of the Truth-In-Sentencing law, or determinate sentencing, in 1999.
Previously, the state practiced indeterminate sentencing, which Streit said allowed an inmate to be eligible for parole after serving 25% of their sentence. However, the Truth-In-Sentencing law denies eligibility for parole to any person who committed a felony offense on or after Jan. 1, 2000, and was sentenced to at least one year in prison.
Consequently, those eligible for parole qualify due to long sentences most likely from serious crimes.
“If the [Truth-In-Sentencing] law had tried to eliminate parole for earlier sentences, the U.S. Supreme Court would certainly have ruled it as unconstitutional,” Streit said in an email. “So the [Parole Commission] needs to continue to exist until there are no more legally eligible offenders remaining in prison.”
Evers and Michels agreed in a press release last week to face off in a debate hosted by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association on Oct. 14.
Wisconsin voters will ultimately make their choice for Governor during the Nov. 8 general election.
Annika Bereny is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state news and politics reporting. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.