Opinion – An open letter regarding John Tate II
July 6, 2022
Dear Governor Evers and Gubernatorial Candidates:
We are faith leaders and congregations from many different traditions and many parts of Wisconsin. In this election year, we write to implore you to tell the truth. We ask you to have the moral courage to refuse to allow sensationalism and misleading sound bites to cloud the real issues, especially regarding the “criminal justice” system.
We were dismayed by the recent forced resignation of John Tate II as Chair of the Parole Commission. After his years of honorable service and prudent application of the law, we are troubled that purely partisan political calculation caused Mr. Tate to lose his job.
The job of the Chair of the Parole Commission is not to retry cases that were decided in a court of law decades ago. People convicted prior to 2000, prior to “Truth In Sentencing” were given sentences that presumed a possibility of parole after 25% of the sentence had been served. When a person becomes parole-eligible, it is the job of the Commission and its Chair (Mr. Tate) to determine if the person has done what is necessary to qualify for parole.
Have they completed the required programs? Have they conducted themselves well while incarcerated? Have they demonstrated that they have been rehabilitated? Do they have a reasonable plan for life after release? If so, it is the duty of the Commission to move them toward release. The mission statement of every correctional institution in Wisconsin says it is “to fulfill the mandate of the courts when it comes to the housing and length of a person’s sentence.”
It is dishonest political rhetoric to say of a person sentenced prior to 2000 and being released on parole that “they only served 25 years of an 80-year sentence.” If the person served 25 years, they have served 5 years more than the minimum required by the sentence. If people are unhappy with that, their complaint is with the judge who presided over a trial many years ago, weighed the facts and the law, and determined that an 80-year sentence (with parole eligibility after 20) was appropriate. It is false to state or imply that the Chair (Mr. Tate) or the Governor or anyone else had somehow arbitrarily chosen to shorten the sentence.
It is likewise disingenuous to somehow conflate the granting of parole (often long overdue) to any kind of crime problem in Wisconsin. There are no reports of anyone who was granted parole in recent years being involved in a serious crime. People who have served decades in prison and who have made it through the parole process are very, very low risk to society. The vast majority are pleased just to have the chance to work and to make a contribution to their families and communities. It is appropriate to have an honest conversation about public safety in an election year.
It is not appropriate to create undue fear or to disregard facts in order to score political points. We cannot allow fear of reckless rhetoric to have the effect of returning the Parole Commission to the state it was in for nearly a decade prior to Mr. Tate’s term when only a minuscule number of people were ever granted the parole that was envisioned by the judge who sentenced them.
As faith leaders, we believe that justice should never be confused with vengeance. We believe that every human being needs to be regarded with respect. Though there may be a need for people to be separated from society for a time to ensure everyone’s safety, our goal should always be restoration – of those who have been injured, of their families, of the community, and even of the person who caused the harm. We are aware that most people who commit crimes are, themselves, victims of previous crimes.
We can never as a society eradicate violence and victimization with punishment alone. As people of faith, we not only believe in redemption and reconciliation as abstract concepts; we believe they are possible. We see it every day.
Thank you for your time. For more information or should you be interested in speaking to us, please contact:
Peggy West Schroder, Campaign Coordinator, Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO)
- David Liners, Executive Director, WISDOM
- Rev. Erik Carlson, Bradford Community Church UU, Kenosha, WI Rev.
- Paul D. Erickson, Bishop, Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA
- Rev. Tyler Rasmussen, Pastor, Mt Zion Lutheran Church, ELCA
- Rev. Tonen O’Connor, Resident Priest Emerita, Milwaukee Zen Center
- Rev. Susan Myoyu Andersen, Roshi, Monroe, WI
- Rachel Kincade, MOSES President
- Jean Rydberg Erickson, Whitefish Bay, WI
- Rev. Phil Haslanger, United Church of Christ, retired, Fitchburg WI
- Frances Hoffman, O.P., DeForest, WI
- Eleanor Harris, Milwaukee, WI
- Danielle Schurhammer, Milwaukee Friends Meeting
- Rev. Reirin Gumbel, Milwaukee Zen Center
- Gerald Roesch, Milwaukee, WI
- Sister Barbara Pfarr, SSND, MICAH Member
- Clarence L. Harms, Leader of “Committee on Religion and Race”, Faith Methodist Church, Brillion, WI
- Kay Augustine, Milwaukee Friends Meeting
- Rev. Dr. Christopher J. Ross, Interim Pastor, Union-Congregational United Church of Christ of Waupun
- Rev. David Kraemer, United Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Waukesha, WI
- George Owen, Milwaukee, WI
- Rev. David Kell, retired clergy, member of First United Methodist of Baraboo
- Pastor Mary Martha Kannass
- Glen Copper, Milwaukee, WI
- Kelly Goodman, Congregation Emanuel Waukesha
- Dr. James Grimshaw, Associate Professor of Religion, Carroll University
- David Bodoh, Menominee Nation
- Sue Kaiser, Lay Leader, WI United Church of Christ Conference, Member at Ebenezer UCC – Sheboygan
- Lisa Hart, Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation and Justice Ministries, Executive Associate to the Conference Minister, Wisconsin Conference UCC
- Rev. Laura L. Yurs, United Church of Christ
- Rev. Michelle Henrichs
- Rev. Kimberly Jordan, Waukesha, WI
- Rev. Kathleen Gloff, Kenosha, Wisconsin
- Gary Crevier, ESTHER President
- Diane L. Hatchell, PhD., First Congregational Church of Waukesha
- Kimberly A. Stevens
- James Langreder, Licensed Pastor, East Troy, WI
- Rev. Kevin Beebe, Spirit Alive Church, Kenosha, WI
- School Sisters of Notre Dame, CP Province Shalom Office
- Barbie Jackson, Madison, WI
- Rev. David Huber, United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
- Rev. Greta Hietpas, Waukesha, WI
- Linda Ketcham, Executive Director, JustDane
- Joan Plumley, Menomonee Falls
- Marge Stern, Member, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Madison, WI
- Rev. Marian Boyle Rohloff, West Side Moravian Church Green Bay, WI and President of WISDOM
- Kay E. Stevens
- Rose Stietz, OP, Milwaukee, WI
- Ron Alexander, NAOMI
- Rev. Leanne Rose, Emmanuel UCC Dousman
- Rev. Kate Jones, Lead Pastor, Wauwatosa Avenue UMC
- Maureen McDonnell, O.P.
- Pastor Char Guiliani, Incarnation Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI
- Rev. Ellen Rasmussen, Pastor, Brown Deer United Methodist Church
- Jeremy Packer, Chair, Buddhist Peace Fellowship of Milwaukee
- Christina Mercier
- Sherry Reames, member, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
- Lucy Friedrichs, Member of MICAH, Unitarian Church North
- Lisa Hart, Fitchburg, WI
- Gary Gates, MOSES
- Pamela Gates, MOSES
- Jane A Smith, Member, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Madison, WI
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