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Michels’ statement conflates Evers’ support of reducing Wisconsin’s prison population over time with releasing thousands of people who are currently incarcerated.
Evers has supported diversion programs, which would cut down on the number of people heading into prisons in the first place.
Evers doesn’t have control over who is paroled beyond appointing the head of the parole commission.
Furthermore, there wouldn’t be 9,000 or 10,000 incarcerated people to be released from Wisconsin prisons even if that was Evers’ aim. Less than 2,000 prisoners are parole-eligible.
With crime a central focus of the campaign, Republican Tim Michels has been hammering Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on a related issue: parole.
Michels has continually pointed out where people were paroled after committing violent crimes – or even committed other crimes after being paroled. At one point, Michels said he’d halt all paroles as governor – which could in some cases violate state law – and called on Evers to do the same.
"It’s reckless to let out half the prison population," Michels said. "There’s 21,000 people incarcerated in Wisconsin. (Evers has) let out over 1,000. He wants to let out between 9,000 and 10,000 more."
But Evers has not indicated that he would try to accomplish that solely through releasing parolees, as Michels makes it seem. What’s more, there aren’t even enough people in prison eligible for parole to make Michels’ statement accurate.
Let’s break this claim down.
The instance Michels drew from to make his statement came from a debate during the 2018 Democratic primary, a few months before Evers was elected governor. Evers said that cutting the state’s prison population in half, a goal of the multiracial interfaith organization MICAH, was "a goal that’s worth accomplishing."
Evers at the time noted it was a long-term goal and hasn’t placed great emphasis on it since taking office when compared with other priorities. Still, he said what he said.
But wanting to reduce the prison population doesn’t necessarily mean wanting to let out half of the people already in prison. Evers’ efforts on prison reform have focused on diversion programs, according to information from spokesperson Britt Cudaback – which would reduce the number of people heading into Wisconsin prisons, cutting the population over time without a flood of people being released.
We’ve written about this difference before. Reducing the number of inmates over time isn’t the same as releasing people from prisons immediately.
There are other problems with Michels’ statement. For instance, he suggests that Evers is solely in charge of letting people out on parole. But the governor doesn’t have that kind of control over parole releases – Evers appoints the chairperson to the state parole commission, but does not himself make day-to-day parole decisions. (Some paroles are required by law; others are discretionary.)
Evers could release people who are incarcerated by commuting their sentences, but he has not done so. In fact, the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against him and the former head of the parole commission in April 2020 to force his administration to commute sentences and let more prisoners out on parole due to the coronavirus pandemic. The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Finally, even if Evers had specifically said he wanted to reduce the prison population by releasing half of those in prison, and even if he himself had the power to do so, he wouldn’t be able to free between 9,000 and 10,000 people.
That’s because Department of Corrections data from August 2022 showed less than 2,000 of the state’s inmates have parole-eligible offenses. The rest were convicted of crimes on or after Jan. 1, 2000, when the state’s truth-in-sentencing law took effect, which requires all prisoners to serve every day of their sentence.
Michels said Evers wants to let out half of those currently incarcerated in Wisconsin prisons.
The statement references the fact that the governor has said he wants to reduce the state’s prison population – which could be accomplished by diversion programs and other front-end solutions.
Evers has not said he would do so by releasing half of the current prison population – which is impossible on a few fronts.
We rate this claim False.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Michels wants to halt all paroles in Wisconsin, citing release of violent offenders under Evers. Many of those were required by law," Sept. 21, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tim Michels says he'll appoint parole commission head whose goal isn't to cut prison population," Oct. 24, 2022
PolitiFact Evers-O-Meter, "Promise to work toward cutting prison population in half stalls," July 5, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "New report shows Wisconsin has the highest rate of Black imprisonment in the U.S.," Oct. 18, 2021
Wisconsin Watch, "Overcrowding brings sickness and death to Wisconsin prisons," Feb. 15, 2021
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "GOP group misses mark with claim prison population reduction would require fast release of criminals," Sept. 21, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Inmates and ACLU ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to release prisoners over coronavirus concerns," April 10, 2020
Wisconsin State Journal, "State Supreme Court won't hear ACLU lawsuit on COVID-19 in prisons," April 25, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "What to know about parole, truth in sentencing and when people can get out of prison in Wisconsin," Sept. 21, 2022
Email with Michels spokesperson Anna Kelly
Email with Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback
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