Gov. Tony Evers can free incarcerated men and women without the assistance of the State Legislature. He has simply chosen not to do it.
The Legislative Reference Bureau made that perfectly clear in March, when it released a report entitled, "Emergency Release of Prisoners Due to COVID-19."
Here is what is said about Evers' powers. The added emphasis is ours.
The governor’s authority to release inmates from state correctional facilities derives from both the Wisconsin Constitution and the Wisconsin Statutes.
Constitutional powers of clemency. Article V, section 6, of the Wisconsin Constitution provides the governor with the power to grant clemency to individuals who have been convicted of a crime except in cases of treason or impeachment, subject to certain statutory limitations. This clemency can take one of three forms: a reprieve, a commutation, or a pardon. A reprieve is a temporary delay of punishment, in which case a prisoner could be released and punishment delayed for some period before being reinstated. A commutation is a reduction in punishment and could take the form of shortening a prison term and releasing an offender early. Finally, a pardon is an official act of forgiveness for a crime after the sentence has been completed that restores certain civil rights, but does not erase the record of the crime.
The governor’s use of this authority is wholly discretionary. For example, Governor Scott Walker did not grant clemency in any form during his two terms as governor. Governor Evers has reinstated a pardons board to handle clemency applications. The governor has set criteria for obtaining clemency such that only pardons are available; reprieves and commutations are not currently included in the administration’s application criteria. Rather, a person must have completed his or her sentence at least five years before applying. Under the current policy of the Evers administration, any clemency application by a person who has not completed his or her sentence will be denied. Thus, while the Wisconsin Constitution provides that the governor may use his or her clemency power to shorten prison terms and release inmates, the current administration’s policy suggests that this is unlikely....
The entire LRB document is here.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Advocacy groups on Tuesday called on Gov. Tony Evers to expand the compassionate release program to allow the release of more aged and infirm incarcerated people from state prisons.
"The prison health system cannot handle a massive outbreak of COVID-19. State officials must work to keep our communities safe without putting those serving prison sentences at unnecessary risk," the groups said in a letter to Evers. "You and the DOC (Department of Corrections) must act now to release some of those imprisoned. Lives really are at stake."
The letter was signed by the Wisconsin Justice Initiative; the ACLU of Wisconsin; the Milwaukee Turners Confronting Mass Incarceration Committee; the National Lawyers Guild, Milwaukee Chapter; and WISDOM.
The groups requested Evers to direct DOC to "aggressively" use the program to release qualified, low risk-people from "our overcrowded, understaffed prisons."
"Wider use of compassionate release will reduce prison crowding and help prevent the spread of coronavirus," the groups wrote. "It will reduce stress on prison medical staff and take a long overdue step toward making the compassionate release program an effective and useful tool. The risks posed by coronavirus to too many incarcerated people are greater than the risks these people pose to the public. "
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