On Monday August 30, following a news conference on transit, some prison abolitionists confronted Wisconsin governor Tony Evers. Evers’ aides ushered him away and tried to defend the governor’s policies. Here is video of the encounter, and our response to his statements.
When we spoke last Monday, you ignored well-founded criticism and dodged public accountability on prison atrocities by telling me you wanted a statement in writing. You instructed that we send you some resources to verify what we are saying.
Well, here’s our response, in writing, per your request:
You are the governor of a state which is consistently at or near the top of the list for racial disparities in incarceration, for both Black and Indigenous people. Social scientists have described Wisconsin as the worst place for Black kids to grow up, the most racially segregated, and having extreme economic disparities for Black people. Your prison policies are driving those outcomes.
As governor of this state you have a responsibility to be aware of and accountable to what goes on in your prisons. Wisconsin prisons are a humanitarian crisis. If you want detailed reports in writing, demand them from Kevin Carr. Have someone on your staff compile the daily shift logs and incident reports from maximum security prisons. It should be someone who is getting paid for that labor and who has good enough health insurance to get counseling for the secondary trauma that reviewing prison shift reports can cause.
Most importantly, you must read of the reports yourself and act on them. People have been sending you reports for years. Visit prisonforum.org to see compiled letters put together and posted online by unpaid volunteers who struggle with the trauma of knowing the horrors going on inside prisons and being powerless to stop it. Maybe those of us doing that work wouldn’t need counseling if we knew that getting reports to you in writing had any chance of leading to meaningful action.
We understand that you’ve proposed changes to the legislature, just like you understand that the legislature is not going to make those changes. That’s why it is necessary for you to act.
We have delivered reports on torture and abuse to your office. As COVID19 spread in your prisons, we sent lists of people seeking pardons to your office. Your staff was unable to confirm that those lists ever made it to your desk. We had to find and use an obsolete form, because you eliminated the process of asking for an exception to the pardon criteria you chose to create. Your chosen criteria exclude the people most desperately in need of pardons, those who are suffering in your disastrous prisons.
Last Monday, you said your pardon board was busy with the people who do meet your criteria. That only reveals the problem: you ignored the people in the gravest danger, those dying in prisons today, to instead prioritize the restoration of a few rights to people who’ve been out of prison and off paper for more than five years. Those are the priorities of a heartless and clueless bureaucrat.
You have the power to change your criteria with the stroke of a pen. We’ve been demanding you do so for years, and you choose not to. When republican governors released hundreds at a time, you do nothing. When you could’ve restored people’s voting rights to counter fascist restrictions, you did nothing.
Changing criteria and having your pardon board at least hear and consider the situations endured by people held in your prisons, or circulating through your supervision bureaucracy would give those people hope. That sense of hope alone, could save lives.
On revocation policies, you don’t need to change statute. In regards to vested street time, the state Supreme Court, in state ex rel. Ludtke v. DOC gave the DOC the power to choose how “street time” is counted. You can instruct secretary Carr to choose differently. Without changing a single law, that policy change would break the process used by DCC agents to trap people in nearly perpetual supervision. Think tanks across the ideological spectrum, from the Columbia Justice Lab to The Badger Institute have recommended that change.
We gave you their reports in writing and you ignored us.
Back on March 26, 2019, for WISDOM’s Madison action day, I and a dozen other organizers sat in your fancy conference room, requesting that change and many others. We made our demands in writing, gave a list of actions YOU can take to Jamie Kuhn and Katie Domina, with resources, reports, and supporting evidence. Items on that list do not require changing statute or working with the legislature, only changing DOC policies and practices. You did not take action. I bet you never even looked at the list. Yesterday is not the first time your staff has sheltered you from prisoner advocates.
You can fire and replace Lance Wiersma and Niel Thoresen, who both worked under Scott Walker, and who both treat revocation policy as a tool to impose conservative, white supremacist values onto the people of Milwaukee. Your DOC chooses to use community supervision as Jim Crow, and you choose to maintain that practice and the personnel who developed it. Replace them with people who understand and sympathize with the re-entry challenges faced by anyone coming back to Milwaukee.
On September 25, 2019, I filmed a friend asking you about DCC policies, and you said “I have hired the right person for the job: John Tate II from Racine.” John Tate II is the parole chair. He doesn’t control supervision policies. Lance Wiersma, a Scott Walker hire from Beaver Dam, controls supervision policies.
You are the governor of this state, you are responsible for the Wisconsin prison system, where DCC policies drive mass incarceration and maintain a second-class citizenship status for people on supervision, especially Black people on Milwaukee’s north side. You have a responsibility to understand and change those policies. At the very least, you ought to know who is in charge of them. You don’t. You’ve been utterly negligent in your responsibilities and it has caused death and massive, racially targeted suffering to the people of Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
You are a failure. You have it in writing. The next time we see you, don’t ask us again to do what we’ve been doing since you first came to office.