Tony Evers’ parole claims are misleading, false, and designed to distract. For starters, the parole list did not contain “mandatory releases.” The paroles of killers are discretionary paroles.
Here are the facts on Gov. Tony Evers’ parole record.
In the wake of criticism over his two-time appointee’s discretionary release of brutal killers and rapists, including stranglers, child murderers, wife murderers, slashers, and gang rapists, Gov. Tony Evers is trying to mislead the media and public on parole.
A new Tony Evers parole “fact check” from the governor’s campaign is so glaringly dishonest in its omissions and language that we decided to fact-check it. A largely compliant news media often reprint Evers’ misleading press releases without question. That’s wrong.
Evers is trying to distract from the fact that his appointee granted discretionary paroles to: a man who cut his wife’s head off and burned it in a stove; a gang rapist who slashed a woman’s throat and left her to die in a manure pit; a man who brutally beat and murdered a small toddler; a rapist/strangler who broke into the home of a young med tech and brutally killed her; and many more. He doesn’t tell the public that killers were paroled without multiple victims’ family members knowing about the parole hearings, a responsibility of the state Department of Corrections that the governor directly controls. Despite all of that, the governor recently told the Wisconsin State Journal that he thinks the parole process has worked. Multiple victims’ families adamantly disagree.
Parole and early release programs expanded in multiple ways under Evers. Tony Evers’ parole claims are below in italics in the order in which he made them. The facts are in black. We encourage the news media to start reporting the facts when covering the Evers parole controversy.
The facts on the Tony Evers Parole Controversy
Evers says: Michels’ latest ad suggests Evers’ policies have led to an increase in crime.
The facts: Tony Evers and his DOC pushed to expand prison early release programs: the earned release and challenge incarceration programs. According to the state’s own data, 40 percent of those criminals were re-arrested within two years, endangering public safety.
They also started freeing extremely violent criminals who qualified for parole under old laws at a higher rate than Scott Walker had, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel verified.
Although earned release is sold as being for non-assaultive substance abusers seeking treatment, we found criminals who were freed, court records say through earned release, despite committing offenses the public would consider violent, such as battery and recklessly endangering safety.
We also found armed robbers, felons in possession of a firearm, and people with past violent records or violent charges in the same case, even habitual criminals with lengthy records. Multiple criminals were released even though they had already failed earned release or had their probation/parole revoked, sometimes in the same case. Some are now sex offenders.
This program expansion occurred at a time when violent crime soared in some areas of the state, with homicide at record levels in the City of Milwaukee.
Evers says: The reality is that Gov. Evers has always prioritized public safety.
The facts: In addition to choosing a parole commission chairman – twice – who has released some of the state’s most heinous killers and rapists, Evers expanded the earned release program to free more criminals, and Evers advocated reducing the prison population by 50%. The prison population has decreased about 15% during his tenure, and some people who commit new crimes while on early release aren’t sent back to prison. He supports revising truth in sentencing, which eliminated parole. He made incendiary comments against/prejudging police that some people believe inflamed the Kenosha riots. His lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, said on video that reducing the prison population is “sexy.”
Evers says: From passing significant public safety legislation to making enormous investments in law enforcement and violence prevention, Gov. Evers has been working diligently to keep the people of Wisconsin safe.
The facts: It’s true that Evers has dumped millions of dollars into “Violence Prevention,” including in the City of Milwaukee. But what does that really mean in a practical sense? The Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention – which is heavily pushed by Democrats Tony Evers and Josh Kaul – blew over $6 million in the past three years on consultants, administration, auto allowances for staff, travel, and other activities without an obvious link to immediately stopping crime, an open records request showed.
Evers says: Gov. Evers is committed to keeping violent criminals off the streets.
The facts: Evers appointed John Tate to run the Parole Commission, which gave Tate sole authority over paroles. Tate is a vocal proponent of repealing truth-in-sentencing laws, increasing paroles, and pushes police “reform” with a revolutionary website. In 2019, Tate began freeing some of the state’s most brutal murderers and rapists, including stranglers, men who stabbed and suffocated their wives and girlfriends to death, people who beat small babies and toddlers, a sniper, gang rapists, and more. Many of these people were serving life prison terms. They qualified for parole under old laws before truth in sentencing, but they did not have to be released. In many cases, victims’ families vehemently oppose these releases but did not even know parole hearings were happening.
In 2021, Evers decided that Tate should continue this approach by reappointing him to the Parole Commission, writing that he was “pleased” to do so. Tate then continued releasing brutal killers and rapists into Wisconsin communities.
It should be noted that Evers also promised in 2018 that he would not release violent criminals. Yet in 2019, Tate, his appointee, started doing just that.
Evers says: In April of this year, Evers signed a bill to prevent violent criminals and sex offenders from being released early from prison in the future. Evers’ bill would also prevent violent criminals and sex offenders from being released early on probation in the future.
The facts: In 2020, Evers vetoed a similar bill to ban inmates from qualifying for earned release or challenge incarceration for additional violent crimes, including some firearm and sexual assault offenses. In 2022, he switched course with the election looming and signed the bill. In between the veto and signing, dangerous offenders were released because of the governor’s veto.
Furthermore, his appointee kept releasing violent criminals without the governor saying a word.
Evers says: Gov. Evers is taking action to fund our police and keep our communities safe. Evers has devoted over $100 million to law enforcement and violence prevention in Wisconsin…
The facts: See the above paragraph on the effectiveness of dumping millions of dollars into “violence prevention.” Evers also vetoed a bill in 2021 that would have slashed state aid to cities and counties that reduced their police budgets. Spending on policing in Wisconsin was highest in 2013 (i.e., under Scott Walker) and then started to decline, although some blame this on property tax limits and state aid allocations.
In a nutshell, Evers has diverted millions of dollars to the aforementioned violence prevention efforts that might have been used toward police departments. The Milwaukee police force, for example, is struggling with severely depleted staffing shortages. His efforts to reduce the prison population hinder or even unravel law enforcement’s efforts to get criminals off the streets. Court backlogs have escalated during his tenure due to COVID policies and skyrocketing crime. Some of Evers’ above proposals have come only at election time as he has faced withering criticism from Republican Tim Michels over public safety and violent crime.
Evers says: Other testimonials in the ad claimed that “Evers released hundreds of violent criminals from prison” and “some of the worst offenders in Wisconsin history.”
The facts: His two-time appointee did release hundreds of violent criminals from prison as well as some of the worst offenders in Wisconsin history, as noted. As noted, Evers reappointed him after he had started doing so. See profiles on some of the violent criminals and worst offenders here. Evers has not condemned the releases. He has refused to comment on them.
Evers says: The reality is that in Wisconsin, only the parole chair can decide who gets paroled. The governor has no role in these decisions.
The facts: The governor proved last May that he has a role in the decisions. After intense pressure from a victim’s family, he belatedly asked his Parole Commission chairman to rescind the release of a convicted wife killer, which the chairman then did. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline from last May read: “Parole rescinded for man who killed wife in front of children after Gov. Tony Evers intervenes.” A transcript of an appeal hearing in that case reveals that Evers then requested Tate to resign because the governor and his staff did not want parole cases to be “relitigated” in public. In other words, they feared public examination of the release of violent killers into Wisconsin communities.
The wife killer, Douglas Balsewicz, stayed in prison as a result of the role Evers played. However, he did not take similar action in the cases of the other brutal killers; instead, after some of them, he reappointed Tate, saying he was pleased to do so, and, in all the rest, he remained utterly silent.
In addition, Evers controls the Department of Corrections, which is in charge of notifying victims about parole hearings. As noted, multiple victims’ families told us they did not know about the parole hearings.
Evers says: As the Journal Times puts it, “paroles are decided by a state commission that operates independently of the governor.” The Associated Press noted, “while the governor decides who is granted a pardon, he does not control paroles…”
The facts: See above. Here’s one simple move Evers could have taken on parole at any time: He could have withdrawn Tate’s nomination when he started releasing brutal killers and rapists. He did not. He let him keep doing it.
Evers says: While the parole chair, John Tate never received a full confirmation hearing, he was unanimously recommended (5-0) for confirmation by the Republican-controlled Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety…
The facts: It’s true that Republicans in the Legislature could have also voted Tate’s nomination down at any time but let it dangle. This was how they handled all of Evers’ nominees. However, Evers picked Tate, reappointed him, and could have withdrawn his nomination at any time. Roger Roth, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, took the lead last May in trying to get GOP legislators to fire Tate. Tim Michels had nothing to do with any of this.
Evers says: Of the convicted criminals released under Gov. Evers’ administration, nearly half were released because their release was required by law. In Wisconsin, some paroles are discretionary and others are required by law. The parole commission has oversight over both discretionary and mandatory parole.
The facts: Actually, the releases did not include “mandatory release” inmates, known as MR. Evers is referring to the list of more than 880 criminals given “parole grants” under “parole commission action,” from 2019 through 2021, to use the terminology in the Excel sheet that lists them. The Excel sheet was released by the Wisconsin Parole Commission via open records laws. It’s simply false that “nearly half were released because their release was required by law.”
Old laws did require something called “mandatory release,” by which criminals had to be freed after 2/3rds of their sentences. However, the Parole Commission confirmed in writing that the Excel sheet did not include “mandatory releases.” Those were filtered out of the sheet. We also confirmed this by running hundreds of them in court records and the DOC offender database. This is a key way that Evers has tried to confuse the public and media.
Evers says: As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stated, the Wisconsin Parole Commission “is required to parole felons who have completed either the Earned Release Program or the Challenge Incarceration Program.”
The facts: What Evers and the media aren’t telling the public here is that the Department of Corrections, which is under Evers’ direct control and is run by his cabinet appointee, has discretion over which inmates are suitable for those programs. There is no requirement that the state allows inmates to enter the earned release or challenge incarceration programs and get out early through them. Judges usually decide whether inmates are eligible for those programs (like they used to set parole eligibility), but DOC determines whether the criminal actually gets in/is suitable for it.
In a way, this is even worse for Evers because he has direct control over the Department of Corrections.
Under Evers’ tenure, DOC has expanded the guidelines to let more criminals qualify for these programs. The Parole Commission then “signs off” (in their own words) on some of the releases, and they are listed as “parole grants” and “parole commission action” in the Excel sheet. This appears to be a review of whether they actually met eligibility with DOC making discretionary judgments. To argue that Evers has nothing to do with a program he expanded when a state agency he controls makes a host of critical discretionary decisions – including which inmates get in – is ridiculous. In his parole fact check, Evers cited newspaper articles that were just based on an earlier misleading press release he issued on the same topic. Again: No state law requires that Wisconsin criminals be accepted into these early-release programs instead of serving their full sentences. DOC makes those calls.
Evers says: Evers’ parole commission has released fewer inmates via discretionary parole than Governor Scott Walker, and nearly 50x less than Governor Tommy Thompson…
The facts: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that Evers’ Parole Commission is releasing a higher rate of inmates than Walker did via discretionary paroles. What’s important – and what many media outlets are censoring – is WHO is being released. Evers is trying to make it a numbers game, but the controversy is over WHO his commission let out early (stranglers, men who cut their wives’ heads off, etc.)
We found that Evers released more killers in three years than Walker did in eight.
Using aggregate numbers in this manner is an apples-to-oranges, ridiculous comparison because Walker and Thompson served many more years in office than Evers. Furthermore, Thompson and Walker (as governor and a state legislator) helped get rid of the weak laws that allowed parole and shepherded in an era of truth in sentencing that Evers has said he wants to revise and Tate wants to abolish. Because parole was thus eliminated in 1999, there are fewer old law inmates who qualify for release every year. They’re also likely to be worse offenders because they’ve been in prison now since at least 1999. Also, stating the obvious – Thompson and Walker are not running for governor.
Evers says: Politifact recently rated Michels’ assertion that Scott Walker released “zero” offenders on parole during his time in office, “pants on fire” false, “false and ridiculous,” and “wildly wrong.”
The facts: Michels misspoke on this matter. He confused paroles and pardons. Walker was opposed to granting any pardons, which are different from paroles. In addition to paroling criminals at a higher rate than Walker did, Evers has pardoned many criminals.
Evers says: The ad argues of offenders paroled, “some struck again and others will.”
The facts: Some have struck again. We found many examples of paroled killers and rapists who have already reoffended and are back behind bars on new criminal charges or DOC holds. In addition, as noted, 40% of the earned release/challenge incarceration inmates were re-arrested within two years.
Evers says: The reality is that Michels’ radical agenda anti-gun safety agenda will enable criminals and endanger Wisconsin law enforcement.
The facts: Evers’ two-time appointee has freed Burlington and Milwaukee cop killers and a man who shot a Rice Lake police officer with a laser-sighted gun. Criminals with gun offenses, such as felons in possession of firearms or people who shot people, have been freed early during Evers’ tenure. Many of the murderers released early shot people to death. Some are even double or triple murderers.
Evers says: Individuals released since 2019 have reoffended at a far lower rate than individuals released during the Walker administration. The rate of discretionarily paroled offenders who had a criminal violation of their parole in the Walker administration was more than double the rate under the Evers administration.
The facts: This is a very flawed comparison because the people paroled under Walker’s tenure have had a lot more time to re-offend. Some of the people paroled under Evers were released in 2021. They’re already starting to re-offend, but they haven’t had as much time to do so.
Evers says: Michels supports a radical agenda on guns that would make Wisconsin less safe…And he has promised to lift restrictions on firearms as governor and let people bring loaded guns on school grounds.
The facts: Some of the paroled killers committed horrific acts of domestic violence, some with guns. Felons in possession of firearms are among those freed early under the earned release program. One paroled killer brought a gun on school grounds. Paroled killers freed during Evers’ tenure shot their wives and parents in the head.
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