During his campaign for governor, Tony Evers promised to decrease Wisconsin’s prison population by as much as 50%. But while other governors in the U.S. have issued health-based clemency to prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, Evers hasn’t.
Milwaukee-area prison reform activists have been sounding the alarm since the beginning of the pandemic —claiming that Wisconsin prisons have failed to meet basic health and safety standards in light of the pandemic. And groups like the Milwaukee Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) are calling on the governor to release at-risk prisoners from these conditions.
"We have requested from Gov. Evers that he use his executive authority to commute the sentences of five categories of incarcerated persons," says Ron Schroeder, a member of Milwaukee IWOC.
He continues, "Mainly those are people currently approved for work release; people over 60 and/or with serious health issues that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19; people who were convicted when they were under 25 years of age and who have been in prison more than 15 years; people who are due to be released in the next six months, and lastly, people who are serving time for a revocation who have not been convicted of a new crime."
Schroeder and fellow Milwaukee IWOC member Bob Thibault claim the health and sanitation in Wisconsin prisons are putting people at a heightened risk of contracting coronavirus. Thibault also points out that Wisconsin's prison population is disproportionately people of color, who face a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than white prisoners.
"You know, we’ve had a lot of discussion around the country in the last few months about Black Lives Matter. And everybody thinks that Black Lives Matter in policing, in the streets, but Black Lives Matter in prison, too," says Thibault.