Gov. Tony Evers speaks to students at Winnequah School in Monona | Department of Military Affairs photo by Sgt. Alex Baum
A total of 337 pardons were issued by Gov. Tony Evers during his first three years in office, the largest number of any Wisconsin governor in contemporary history. Evers stated that the pardons give “a second chance to folks who’ve made amends and paid their debt to society.” He added that “these individuals have recognized and acknowledged their past mistakes, and this sends a powerful message of redemption as each of them work to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities.”
The pardon board heard from applicants virtually on Nov. 12, 2021. Pardon applications were then selected for expedited review or recommended by the Governor’s Pardon Advisory Board, and forwarded to Evers for consideration.
Many of the people included in the most recent batch of pardons were originally arrested in their late teens or early 20s. Of the 30 pardons recently granted by Evers, 21 involved people who had been arrested due to controlled substances. Of those, 11 of the pardons explicitly referenced cannabis as the reason for the arrest. Seven of the pardoned people had exchanged cannabis or other controlled substances to undercover police officers. Actions driven by poverty, desperation or the naivety of youth were recurring themes among the pardons.
Despite the high number of pardons granted by Evers, criminal justice advocates have called for swifter reforms. In September, when it was announced that Evers was on pace to set a record for pardons, prison abolitionist activists from the group Abolish MKE said steps taken by Evers’ administration were not enough. “We will not let people think these baby steps are a sufficient response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and systemic white supremacy in the Wisconsin prison system,” the group said in a statement. Recent studies show that Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in the incarceration of Black residents, as well as in numbers of students referred to law enforcement.
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