Editor’s Note: While some will try to make the recent rise in violent and serious crime in Wisconsin about politics, it is important to remember this debate is really about public policy. In our humble opinion, bad public policy. So while much of this current discussion is viewed through campaign commercials and press releases, the MacIver Institute will continue to remind the public that our crime crisis did not happen by accident. The radical left has convinced many politicians, most, but not all, on the Democrat side of the aisle, that we lock up too many criminals for too long because our country is racist. It is a policy decision to let violent criminals with extensive records out of jail early or to allow them to walk freely among us while they await trial. Instead of sitting silent and accepting this false narrative, MacIver is committed to exposing the policy origins of the crime problem plaguing our communities.
Aug. 16, 2022
Criminal justice systems are built around the concept that policies must be in place in a civilized society to lock away violent criminals to protect the populace.
Over the years, this expectation has been eroded, and in recent years the left has pushed for and won on policies to decriminalize, decarcerate, and divert, based on their premise that the path to lower crime is paved with leniency.
The corresponding increases in violent crime, exacerbated by pandemic policies, have resulted in widespread backlash from an increasingly fearful public, even in liberal strongholds like San Francisco. High profile DAs campaigned for, won, and followed through on promises to do as little prosecuting as possible. And judges promised to allow sweetheart plea deals and to give lenient sentences. Instead, they diverted criminals away from incarceration, didn’t seek cash bail, and reduced the jail populations. They joined hands with the defund police movement, and they watched crime rise.
Now, the progressive Scold-and-Release thug-huggers are scrambling to reframe the issue. Unwilling to admit their policies failed to keep the public safe, or to keep criminals from breaking the law their strategy is to tie the rise in crime to lax gun laws and racism.
Tony Evers has been a leader in the movement toward leniency on crime, and decarceration. His success in advancing these policies as governor has been accompanied by the largest rise in violent crime in more than a generation. And like his colleagues on the left, he isn’t backing away from his policies, he’s just pointing the finger of blame away from the perpetrators.
Here is a recap of the Evers Felons Before Families initiatives we’ve covered:
- Releasing half the prison population (he’s already nearly 1/3 of the way to his goal)
- Lying about how many violent criminals are in prisons (it’s 70%, not 20%)
- Turning a blind eye when prisoners in the community refuse to comply with the terms of their supervision
- Refusal to remove DAs for low and no bail policies that kill
- Appointing a parole commissioner who would swiftly boost the number of criminals given a “second chance” and then pretending he went rogue and asking for his resignation
- Lavishing sympathy on accused rapist Jacob Blake who resisted arrest while armed
- Chastising victims’ families – telling them to “take a breath” – for their anguished demands for justice
- Vetoing a legislative package of Tougher on Crime bills
- A complete overhaul of the criminal justice code to dump Truth in Sentencing, reduce sentences, and increase early releases.
- Replacing words like ‘prisoner’ and ‘sex offender’ for gentler terms like ‘person in our care’ and ‘client’ that harm criminal self-esteem
Decriminalizing Everything is Nothing New on The Left
Building on Evers’ efforts, in Milwaukee, 6 in 10 felony charges sought by the cops were not prosecuted by DA Chisholm in 2020, and his office refused to provide information about those cases.
Milwaukee now has the 4th highest murder rate in the nation. But prosecutors in the justice system there don’t bother to charge over half of the felony cases where they have a suspect, and they won’t provide information about them.
When the Christmas parade in Waukesha became a killing field for one of the many violent criminals Chisholm’s office released on absurdly low bail, Evers could have removed Chisholm from office.
Chisholm knew his bail policies meant people would die but it was a trade he wanted to make. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen,” he said.
Evers could have removed him, but he did not.
But for all the deeply deserved criticism of Chisolm and his dangerously dismissive attitude to public safety, Dane County takes the cake for what the Madison Police Chief termed “unconscionably low” signature bonds of $500 in reckless homicide cases and child abuse or neglect deaths.
Eleven-year-old Anisa Scott is one victim who paid the price for Dane County’s Scold-and-Release policies when she was shot and killed by three males aiming for someone else. One of the shooters was just out of jail on low cash bail for auto theft, domestic abuse, bail jumping and escaping arrest. Another had been participating in State Street riots and in jail for dealing drugs but released on a signature bond just weeks earlier.
Police Officer Ella French is another. She was murdered by brothers, one of whom had been charged with armed robbery for holding up 4 people at gunpoint. Dane County Judge Ellen Berz accepted a sweetheart plea deal landing him with 3 years’ probation for a crime that carried a maximum 50-year sentence. So, Eric Morgan was free when he and his brother (who of course had his own felony history) were pulled over by Officer French. They opened fire, with a gun that as a convicted felon, Eric was banned from possessing.
Also in Dane County, the Board’s Black Caucus proposed a deliberately undersized jail renovation plan falling short of the assessed need by 200 beds, 100 beds less than the current overcrowded facility. Their plan is to size the prison for the number of criminals they want, not the number of criminals they have. The sheriff doesn’t support their plan, saying it will lead to worsened overcrowding and unsafe conditions, but the policymakers dismissed his concerns saying, ‘good thing he’s not in charge of the decision.’ This policy decision will result in pressure to keep more criminals out on the streets, endangering public safety. And they’re doing it on purpose.
Wisconsin is experiencing the highest upsurge in violent crime in decades, led by Milwaukee, which is running 39% above its own record-breaking 2021 homicide rate in the first half of 2022. What’s more, nationally violence is slowing ever so marginally, Milwaukee is bucking the micro-trend and violence continues to surge.
That we have governor who is working to empty the prisons and shift the focus of the justice system from community safety to Scold-and-Release is hardly a coincidence.
The legislature has toyed for years with legislation that would require more transparency in crime and justice tracking, but DAs and judges vigorously oppose anything that might reveal to the public which of their elected officials are falling short on delivering justice to victims and safety to communities. Under pressure the legislature has balked, so gathering information continues to be time-consuming when possible, and release of information is at the discretion of the opponents of transparency. It is nearly impossible to get an accurate view into what’s happening in our justice system and why.
Policies have consequences. When the policies aim to decriminalize, decarcerate and defund, the consequence is death.
Evers Uses Executive Powers to Reshape Justice
Evers and his defund-the-police, eliminate-cash-bail lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes are part of a larger progressive movement that has been shoving the left hard to roll back laws that protect the public in favor of laws that protect the perpetrators.
Money has poured into campaign coffers of candidates up and down the ticket willing to get convicts out of prison and back into communities and weaken laws, or failing that, just not enforce laws on the books.
It’s not surprising that Evers has surrounded himself with appointees who share his vision. Although legislative Republicans have blocked many of his initiatives, the governor is not without the ability to impact policy through his administration, and Evers has used his authority to make substantial changes to our prisons.
Department of Corrections: More Releases, Fewer Revocations
Evers’ Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr says we lock up too many people, for too long, and at too high a cost. That is only true from the standpoint of the criminal who needs to be on the streets to continue to engage in their preferred lifestyle of crime.
Carr has decreased prison population by about 15% since 2018 when Evers took office, putting them nearly a third of the way toward the goal of releasing half of the prisoners.
Evers also prioritized ending “crimeless revocations,” and Carr was charged with implementing the changes. Carr has done his job with gusto. During Evers term, revocations have been cut nearly in half.
Extended supervision is inarguably part of a criminal’s sentence, and the rules governing their release are both to keep the community safe, and to keep the criminal under a level of supervision and on the right track as they reintegrate. The left uses the innocuous-sounding terms “crimeless revocations” and “technical violations” to cover the refusal of felons to abide by the conditions of their release.
The rules aren’t things like ‘give your reports to your supervision in pig latin.’
The rules include things like violating the electronic monitoring program, reporting any police contact within 3 days, informing their agent if they move, paying restitution to their victims, attending mandated treatment, or counseling, and complying with mandated drug testing.
None of these things are “technical.” They demonstrate intent.
Evers simply doesn’t think extended supervision should involve supervision. If the only reason to put a criminal finishing one criminal sentence back into jail is if they commit another crime – extended supervision is entirely meaningless. It’s simply early release. And it’s one way to empty prisons.
Violent crime is up as we’re releasing more criminals to communities and while DOC chooses not to enforce the conditions of the sentence they are still serving.
These policies have consequences.
Parole Commission: Appointee Becomes Evers’ Whipping Boy
Evers’ appointee Parole Commissioner John Tate was doing his best to move out the 3,000 felons sentenced before Truth in Sentencing. Tate put Evers’ plans in motion, releasing about 400 felons out to the streets, paroling men convicted of opening fire on a cop, killing him. And another habitual criminal, convicted of illegally possessing a gun, and murder of a cop while participating in a robbery.
Then Tate signed off on the release of a man who had stabbed his wife 40 times, while his young children were in the house, and left them with her corpse. Douglas Balsewicz plea bargained to a sentence of 80 years and hadn’t served even a third of it when Tate agreed to set him free.
This was not a glitch. Tate was following his marching orders from a governor who appointed him precisely because they both wanted to release more criminals. But the victim’s family hadn’t been properly notified, hadn’t been able to voice their opposition. Caught in a PR calamity, Evers made the loyal Tate a scapegoat, and told him – by letter for publicity – to revoke the parole.
Then he made Tate the fall guy and told him to resign.
Pardon Me, Would You Give That Felon A Gun
Evers himself has done yeoman’s work. He has pardoned more than 600 convicted felons, more than any governor in the history of the state. In under 4 years he more than doubled the number of pardons issued by Governor Jim Doyle in eight years. The previous 5 governors cumulatively issued a total of 800 pardons over 35 years. Evers could eclipse that total before the end of his first term; he has pardoned a convicted felon on average every other day since taking office, and he is proud of it.
He even went so far as to create an expedited pardon process so he could crank through pardons at a faster pace. (Hint to felons: the magic phrases seem to be “personal growth” and “mentoring youth.”)
Evers pardons are not limited to non-violent offenders. There are domestic abusers, child abusers, people who committed assault, battery, and armed robbery. People who committed gun crimes.
A mother convicted of repeated abused a child, with a penalty enhancer, and of battery and bail jumping.
A man who was convicted of carrying a sawed-off shotgun was pardoned, as was an individual who took a gun on to school grounds.
And then there are all the many non-violent welfare fraudsters, meth cookers, coke dealers, crack heads, forgers, burglars, and thieves Evers determined should get a pass on the legal consequences of their crimes.
Pardons restore some legal rights, but do not hide the record of the crime like expungement does; the record of their offenses still shows up in CCAP. Some of the felons Evers pardoned have already said their pardon didn’t give them everything they expected.
What pardons do give all felons is their gun rights back, on just the say-so of the governor.
What is perhaps most fascinating about Evers’ pardon compulsion is that he advocates for policies to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, while personally putting guns back in the hands of hundreds of convicted felons. Many of them violent felons, some of whom committed gun crimes.
High-Cost Rehabilitation Programs
Wisconsin’s incarceration rate is lower than the US average, though our per inmate spending is above.
Our spending is high because of years of bipartisan buy-in on rehabilitation has resulted dumping cash into a plethora of education and training and counseling and other opportunities we provide murderers and rapists and molesters.
Educational opportunities for prisoners are vast. Nationally, about 70% of prisoners are high school dropouts, and our DOC is a local education agency, serving up GED and High School Equivalency Diplomas as well as career technical education programs in over 20 fields, ranging from auto maintenance to welding, masonry and building construction. Both UW schools and the Technical Colleges provide a “Second Chances” Associate Degree program to prisoners, funded in part by federal Pell Grant (tax) dollars, UW Madison offers a college jumpstart program to prisoners.
We provide tens of millions of state tax dollars for prison education from elementary school-level reading and math, up to Technical College and University of Wisconsin programs, with additional tax dollars from the federal government in Pell Grant assistance. We even have a $600,000 mobile lab that travels to correctional facilities to teach welding.
Wisconsin felons have bountiful free educational opportunities to fill their free time.
DOC offers every prisoner pre-release education, employment, financial literacy and personal development training. And there are other programs to teach parenting, diabetes prevention, positive psychology, anger management, social skills and mindfulness.
All these programs and more, in the name of rehabilitating inmates, 70% of them violent criminals 26% sex offenders, so they can reintegrate into society, get a job and leave crime behind them. In Wisconsin, these programs have been built upon over time with support from both parties, and they drive up the costs of incarceration.
But they don’t work.
Recidivism isn’t Cheap but it’s Common
Our hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in felons – money that could have been invested in non-criminals or used to build needed prison space to confine dangerous felons or just left in taxpayers pockets – hasn’t moved the needle on rehabilitation.
In 2005, Wisconsin’s 3-year recidivism (reconviction) rate was 34.1%. DOC’s most recent dashboard puts that rate at 33.3%.
That means nearly 2 decades of investments in programs to rehabilitate prisoners and drive down recidivism has seen recidivism go down a miniscule 0.08%.
Both the left and the right justify pumping money into the worker training and education programs as a means to develop the workforce.
According to the DOC, just under 7,000 prisoners were released in 2021, filled up with all the education, work training and counseling they could cram in. Within one year, nearly a third will have been rearrested. Within 3 years, 52% will be rearrested, 33.3% reconvicted and 40.8% back in prison.
That doesn’t make for much of a stable workforce.
Of note, these prison employment training programs are about the only worker-training programs Evers supports.
Contrast them with Evers refusal to continue job search and training requirements for able-bodied 18 to 49-year-olds on FoodShare in spite of near record low unemployment and high demand for workers. During the Walker Administration between 4,300 and 8,500 FoodShare recipients began the work training program every quarter, many volunteering. While Evers praises the job training programs we fund for convicted criminals, he took away a program so valued by welfare recipients that they volunteered to participate.
Evers also shut down the program to help train workers on Medicaid to develop employment skills so they could get a job to help lift themselves out of poverty. In March 2022, there were 281,216 able-bodied childless adults (no kids, no parents, no seniors, no disabled people) on Medicaid – over 40 times the number of prisoners released last year. A much larger and less volatile potential workforce than the few thousand released felons, the majority of whom are unlikely to be rearrested in short order.
It is Evers perverse policy to spend money to train criminals for jobs we know most of them will simply not hold because they will be back in the justice system, while he refuses to help train a much larger group of people who are unemployed or underemployed, the overwhelming majority of whom won’t be heading to prison in months.
Ignoring Gun Laws
One of the only solutions the left holds out for addressing the violent crime that is impacting communities across the nation is gun control.
Here is the main problem with that narrative. We have gun control laws on the books. They’re not being enforced.
One gun control law on the books for years prohibits felons from having guns. Possession of a firearm by a felon is a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
A Fox 6 investigation in 2016 revealed that in a 4-year period more than 3,600 cases where felons were caught with guns in Milwaukee County – generally on arrest for another crime – charges were never filed nearly 40% of the time, and hundreds of others that were charged, later had the charges dismissed. Three out of every four felons arrested for possession of a gun don’t go to prison.
We know that in a 10-year period in Milwaukee, the same 100 people were arrested 900 times for 2600 crimes.
100 people are connected to over 2,600 crimes in Milwaukee County, and @RepSanfelippo says liberals still don't want to lock them up. #WIright pic.twitter.com/FkfUvGt0RP
— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 26, 2022
We also know that more than 40% of ex-cons are going to end up in jail within a few years. But prosecutors are not aggressively pursuing prosecutions of this gun control law that is already on the books.
There is no disincentive for these habitual offenders, the people on the streets most likely to commit another violent crime, to carrying a gun.
This isn’t the only way that the left games the gun control debate. Federal law bans those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse from possessing a gun, but domestic abuse charges are regularly plea bargained down to disorderly conduct, which is not considered domestic abuse.
State law also requires the surrender of guns when a subject has a domestic violence or a child abuse restraining order. But laws are only as good as the judicial system’s commitment to enforcing them. And the fact is, that’s not what the left cares about. They want to arrest, charge, convict and incarcerate fewer people. They can’t even bring themselves to actively prosecute the gun laws on the books because it would mean more criminals in jail.
Evers’ clamor for more gun control laws rings hollow when those already in place to lock up felons with guns and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers are plea bargained away by the justice system.
The Littlest Suffer the Biggest Consequences
Much of the rhetoric from the left on crime focuses on school shootings. No one is unmoved by these tragedies. Parents are justifiably fearful for their children, particularly as schools have increasingly rejected the right of parents to be told about mental or physical health issues their children may be suffering. Evers vetoed a Parents Bill of Rights that would have required schools to tell parents if their children are going through mental health issues so they could seek appropriate treatment.
Also included in the legislation Evers vetoed were provisions to inform parents about school security systems and of any acts of violence or crimes occurring on school grounds. Naturally, the calculated refusal to provide this basic information about mental health issues, security and criminal activity at school has heightened parents’ concerns.
To be sure, school shootings are not the only way children killed. In the last 52 years, three tragic gun-related deaths have occurred on school grounds in Wisconsin; 2 suicides and one student shooting outside of a dance was killed by law enforcement.
In Wisconsin in 2020, 49 children were killed. Six of the victims were under 1 year of age; 21 under 8 years old. We know that 27 of the 49 were fatalities due to abuse or neglect, most often abuse. Most often the perpetrator is a parent, followed by a partner of a parent.
Like the criminal justice system, CPS has shifted their focus in recent years to offering “in-home services” instead of removal of children to protect them. But in most child fatalities, there had been calls to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the previous 5 years, often days or weeks before.
Too often this policy results in death.
A Baby Pays the Price for Scold-and-Release
There is no better example of a case demonstrating the fatal consequences of diversion, decarceration, lenient sentencing, dismissed charges, plea bargaining, and “ending crimeless revocation” than that of the stomach-churning murder of a 20-month-old little girl by convicted felon Marshawn Giles.
This toddler was tortured. Sexually assaulted, beaten, and thrown, suffering mercilessly at the hands of Giles, her mother’s boyfriend of 4 months.
Marshawn Giles is only 24, but his criminal record started young, with a domestic abuse battery charge plea bargained down to disorderly conduct when he was just 17. He has been convicted of fleeing an officer, and multiple felony bail jumping, hit-and-run, and recklessly endangering safety charges.
But many other charges, including domestic abuse, narcotics, hit-and-run-injury, fleeing an officer, obstructing an officer, reckless endangerment and bail jumping charges were dismissed or plea bargained away. All before he turned 23.
This spring, out of prison on his most recent felony conviction, he physically abused his new girlfriend. He terrorized her older children so badly their grandparents called police days before the baby’s death to report a possible assault of one of the children. Police asked CPS for a removal order so the children could stay with the grandparents, but CPS did not find the children in imminent danger and declined to provide a removal order.
This wasn’t the first time CPS had been flagged about Giles. Between January and April 2019 while out on bail each time, Giles led police on 3 high speed vehicle chases (once on the same day as his release from the previous chase arrest), was involved in a domestic abuse disturbance involving 2 children and a gun, for which CPS was called. He and arrested four times during this 4-month period, and skipped multiple court dates. At his 4th arrest, he was found with gun in his pocket used in a March drive-by for which he eventually went to prison, briefly.
The CPS case was closed because they did not find the gun he threatened them with.
Now Giles faces 8 felony and 10 misdemeanor charges connected to the sexual assault and beating death of the child and the rape and battery of her mother. There is a charge of possession of a firearm charge, but he didn’t need or use it to kill the child. He pled not guilty to all charges, so it’s likely that he will be looking for a plea bargain, because Marshawn Giles has done pretty well for himself with plea bargains.
For all his arrests, charges and convictions in the 6-year period since he turned 18, Marshawn Giles spent only 1 year in prison.
He had been originally sentenced to 2 years in a plea bargain on the 2019 reckless endangerment charge for the drive by shooting, but days later, the Rock County Assistant DA Mary Bricco agreed to amend her sentencing recommendation to one year because it “was the fair thing to do.” Judge John Wood then cut his original sentence in half, saying it still achieved his sentencing objectives.
Had the justice system kept that original two-year sentence given April 29, 2020, Giles would still have been in prison on April 25, 2022, the day the little girl died from his violent rape and abuse.
Instead, he was on extended supervision when he killed her, though he had failed to report to his parole agent for several months. That’s one of those “broken rules” that the criminal sympathizers call a “crimeless” violation, for which they don’t believe offenders should go back to jail.
Not complying with supervision of a parole agent, like Giles did not, is one of the most common reasons for “crimeless” revocations.
If Giles had been sent back to prison in a “crimeless revocation” he would have been locked up and unable to murder a child or rape her mother.
The toddler he tortured to death paid the price for the criminal justice system shrugging off the 6-year crime spree that encompassed Giles entire adult life marked by plea bargains, dismissals, light sentences, red flags ignored, justice officials looking to give the felon a break, all assuming he’d be magically rehabilitated if they were just kinder.
It is too much to hope that these justice system officials, and CPS officials, are tormented by thoughts of the suffering their decisions caused a 20-month-old child as she was raped and had her skull fractured multiple times as she was literally thrown around her home by a violent, crazeds and irredeemable criminal.
But, like Evers and Chisholm, too many in the justice system understand the consequences of being soft on crime are paid in pain, suffering, and death. It’s a price they’re willing to pay to earn the political talking point that their “evidence-based” policies keep criminals from suffering undue consequences and turns them away from crime. Well, the evidence is in: Scold-and-Release kills, and it created the monster Marshawn Giles.
The Consequences of these Policies: We are Less Safe
In 1960, there were about 32 violent crimes per 100,000 of Wisconsin population. In 2020 it was over 320 per 100,000 people. That is a 10-fold increase in violent crime in Wisconsin. We are all far more likely to be victims of violent crime, and we’re all far less safe.
But that isn’t how the left sees it. It’s not how Evers sees it. In vetoing one of the Tougher on Crime bills he wrote, “…science informs us that a punitive disposition system leads to worse outcomes,” and “…it is vital that our efforts in reforming our criminal justice system recognize that our kids are worth much more than the worst decision they ever made.”
Perhaps a better calculus for Evers to consider would be whether our kids are worth much more than the decision to make Scold-and-Release the administration’s crime strategy, or whether our kids are worth much more than the worst decision a felon-at-large makes.