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Gov.-Elect Evers Forms Panel To Study Prison System

Evers: 'We Have To Start Prioritizing People, Not Prisons'

Waupun Correctional Institute
Waupun Correctional Institute in Waupun, Wis. Lauren Fuhrmann/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

A panel that includes former state Supreme Court justices, former corrections secretaries and a lawyer who gained national acclaim for his role defending Steven Avery will advise Gov.-elect Tony Evers on changing Wisconsin’s corrections system.

Evers announced the formation of a “Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Policy Advisory Council” on Monday. According to Evers’ office, the council will explore “solutions for reforming Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.”

During his campaign for governor, Evers’ joined other Democrats in calling for Wisconsin’s prison population to be cut in half. Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans attacked the proposal, saying it would result in the release of violent offenders and make Wisconsin less safe.

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In a written statement Monday, Evers said he hoped the council would bring people together from all sides of the criminal justice system.

“We have to start prioritizing people, not prisons,” Evers said. “In Wisconsin, African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be imprisoned than white people, and we spend more on corrections than on our entire UW System. Red states like Texas have passed comprehensive criminal justice reform, and I know Republicans and Democrats can work together to get it done here in Wisconsin.”

Among those serving on the council are Dean Strang, a defense lawyer who rose to national prominence after he was featured in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” Strang defended Avery in the 2007 trial where Avery was convicted of murdering Teresa Halbach.

In an interview, Strang said he hoped to encourage the Evers administration to “restore some regularity” to the state’s parole commission and to the consideration of executive pardons. Since taking office, Walker has not granted any pardons.

Strang also said the state should consider new rules for how police can interview suspects, pointing to the controversial interrogation of Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey.

“I didn’t begin to immerse myself in that issue until I saw the Brendan Dassey videotaped confession,” Strang said.

Also on the council are former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices Louis Butler and Janine Geske. Butler was appointed to the court by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle while Geske was appointed by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The committee will include three people who once ran Wisconsin’s prison system: Walter Dickey, Matt Frank and Rick Raemisch. Raemisch is currently the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Dickey ran Wisconsin’s prison system under former Democratic Gov. Tony Earl. He was also tapped by Thompson to chair a panel that studied corrections and sentencing.

“I think the whole field of corrections and sentencing has been overly politicized,” Dickey said. “I guess if I had a goal, it would be to have it become less politicized and to have policy made on the basis of empirical information.”

Evers will take office Monday, Jan. 7.