The East Gallery at the Capitol in Madison houses the governor's office. (Photo by Jessica VanEgeren)
The East Gallery at the Capitol in Madison houses the governor's office. (Photo by Jessica VanEgeren)

Another 17 given new chances after Scott Walker issued none in 8 years

Gov. Tony Evers announced this week that he will issue pardons to 17 Wisconsinites, bringing his total number of pardons to 29 in his first term so far.

Evers first gave pardons in October. The four were the first in the state since 2010. Former Gov. Scott Walker did not issue a single pardon during his two terms.

“I believe in second chances,” Evers said in a statement. “Each of these individuals has earned a pardon by paying their debt to society, making amends and contributing to their communities.”

Most of the 17 people receiving the pardons committed felonies in their late teenage years and early 20s, according to a press release. Former convicts cannot apply for a pardon until five years after they are out of extended supervision or probation, and they are not eligible if they have been convicted of another crime since completing their initial sentence.

“It’s a great thing that the governor’s doing that he pardoned folks,” said Sean Wilson, Smart Justice director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “But I think it would be an ever greater thing if the pardon process was expanded”

The requirement for pardon applicants to have finished probation or parole for five years before they apply is needlessly restrictive, Wilson said. More than 66,000 people were on probation or parole in Wisconsin as of June 30, 2019, according to the state Department of Corrections.

A damning study published last year by the Columbia University Justice Lab concluded that Wisconsin’s probation and parole practices “are contributing to a prison population that is highly racially disparate and growing.” Wisconsin’s probation and parole periods are nearly twice the national average and the guidelines for supervision are “extensive, often unclear and can be arbitrarily enforced,” according to the study.

As of 2016, about 5,000 more people were on parole or probation in Wisconsin than in Alaska, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming combined, according to the study.

The oldest person pardoned this week was 69-year-old Alvin Korbel, who drunkenly committed arson at 18, according to the press release. He went on to be a career serviceman in the military. Others pardoned were as young as 17 when they committed their crimes.

“Individuals who have been out and been doing everything right should be eligible to be considered (for pardons),” Wilson said.