MADISON, Wis. — Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel ripped the Democratic gubernatorial candidates' proposals to release inmates from Wisconsin prisons Monday, calling the plans irresponsible and dangerous.
Schimel said during a conference call with reporters that the Democrats' plans are too vague and would result in violent criminals walking the streets. He added that the governor has very little power when come to releasing inmates and questioned how Democrats would defend early release to crime victims.
Judges don't send people to prison lightly, Schimel said. Most inmates have lengthy criminal records or have done something so shocking they had to go to prison, he said.
"I'm stunned at the irresponsible proposals being made," the attorney general said. "Either the individuals making these proposals do not understand what they're saying or they're trying to mislead the public."
Eight Democrats are running for governor, including state schools Superintendent Tony Evers; former legislator Kelda Roys; attorney Josh Pade; former Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn; liberal activist Mike McCabe; state firefighter union leader Mahlon Mitchell; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout; and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.
Seven candidates told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week about their plans for state prisons. Wisconsin's prison population stood at 23,519 inmates as of the end of 2017, according to state Department of Corrections report. Sixty-seven percent of inmates had committed a violent offense.
Evers wants to release inmates early, provide more drug treatment for inmates and treat 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults. Roys said she would cut the prison population in half by granting more paroles, releasing ill and aging inmates, expanding division programs, legalizing marijuana, pardoning drug offenders and overhauling Wisconsin's truth-in-sentencing law.
Flynn promised to pardon anyone convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses. McCabe called for releasing half the prison population, legalizing marijuana and ending parole revocations for rule violations if no crime has been committed. Mitchell wants to legalize marijuana as well, give judges more sentencing discretion and eliminate truth-in-sentencing.
Vinehout wants more money for mental health and drug treatment, early release for good behavior and in June called releasing half the prison population an "absolutely doable statistic." Soglin supports early release for good behavior.
Pade didn't answer the Journal Sentinel's questions and his campaign didn't reply to an email from The Associated Press on Monday.
Schimel stressed that hardened criminals who have blown multiple chances end up in prison. Marijuana possession typically doesn't earn a prison sentence and it's misleading to suggest it does, he said. Governors should just let judges do their jobs, he said.
The candidates fired back at Schimel on Monday. Evers accused him of picking political fights rather than solving problems. Soglin called the attorney general a "jerk," suggesting that he "shut up" and actually listen to Democrats' proposals. Roys blasted Schimel for spending thousands of dollars on coins honoring police officers and taking too long to analyze untested rape kits.
McCabe didn't attack Schimel directly but said the state is "dumb on crime." Flynn said voters need to hold elected officials such as Schimel accountable for prison overpopulation.
The seven candidates also oppose private prisons. Asked during the conference call whether a private prison is an option, Schimel said there's no reason why a private prison couldn't be a safe place to house and rehab inmates. But he said building one is a Department of Corrections decision, not his.
The Democratic candidates will face off in an Aug. 14 primary. The winner will meet Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the Nov. 6 general election.
Schimel will face Democrat Josh Kaul in November. Asked for Kaul's stance on the prison population, his spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, initially responded with an email that ignored the question and instead criticized Schimel for analyzing rape kits too slowly. She sent a later email saying Kaul supports drug courts, more treatment for substance abuse treatment and community policing but believes the state needs more prosecutors.