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  • Writer's pictureTracy Keogh

Brendan Dassey: The Road to Clemency

Incumbent Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker is a career politician with an implacably hard-line stance on clemency. As the Wisconsin Gubernatorial election looms on November 6th, criminal justice reform is on the bill. With an assortment of public interest stakeholders including lobbyists, Walkers opponent Tony Ever's and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin touting for change, Walker’s 1990’s ‘truth-in-sentencing’ laws no longer hold relevancy in a system fractured at the legislative hip.


Walkers refusal to endorse the ‘right on crime’ agenda of decriminalisation, reduced sentencing and alternatives to incarceration can be traced back to the young Republican who became the point man for the Republican caucus in the 1990’s. Walker’s political trajectory continued as he became the chair of the assembly’s Committee on Corrections and the Courts and rose to further prominence by sponsoring and leading the charge on the states ‘truth-in-sentencing’ initiative. Such laws abolished parole and lengthened sentences for thousands of offenders across the state.

The legislative session of 1997-1998 saw Walker author, sponsor and co-sponsor 27 bills to broaden the definitions of crime, limit parole and increase mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Toeing the GOP party lines, Walker played a pivotal role as Wisconsin’s prison population tripled and 12 new prisons were built. However, Walker was not without motivation nor intent.

Special Interest Groups

Parlaying his tough on crime rhetoric into campaign contributions from special interests, Walker continued to woo right wing Republicans by lauding his conservative bona fides. A decade after his truth-in-sentencing laws were passed, the legislature rolled back, only for Walker in 2011 to reinstate his stance with renewed vigour, virtually eliminating parole and weakening early release opportunities for qualified inmates.

Walker has never articulated justification for his criminal justice position, soundbites and segues aside, Walker stated “pardons would ‘undermine’ the criminal justice system.” Having signed off on a clemency advisory board in 2010, Walker failed his constitutional obligations and dissolved the inactive committee in 2014. Inheriting almost 700 petitions for clemency, Scott Walker backtracked on former Governor Jim Doyle’s efforts at sentencing reform and has refused to grant pardons, commutations or reprieves since taking office.

The Waning Walker

Currently under Walker’s watch, there are over 23,500 offenders incarcerated in a system built to house less than 18,000 (according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections). State spending on corrections has surpassed the budget for the University of Wisconsin system, and the states penal system budget is perched 10 to 15 percent higher than any other state.

Wisconsin harbours an earned-release program where inmates can successfully complete a six-month treatment program, that will see the remainder of their prison sentence converted to supervised release. This is governed by a judge who must deem the inmate as eligible for release pursuant to (Wisconsin Legislature: 302.05). Brendan’s convictions preclude him from this program.

Brendan Dassey and the Fight for Freedom

The Wisconsin system of justice is awash with disparities from sentencing to the racial ratios. African Americans make up less than 7 percent of the state’s population but 43 percent of the incarcerated population. Wisconsin demands criminal justice reform. The children of Lincoln Hills demand criminal justice reform. Brendan Dassey deserves clemency.

To err is human, to forgive is divine’ the power to pardon, to grant clemency belongs exclusively to the Governor. The governors pardoning power is granted in Article V, section 6 of the Wisconsin Constitution and is not bound by any constitutional standards, allowing unfettered discretion to grant or deny.

Under Walkers governance the wrongfully convicted having exhausted the appellate process, both in state and federal court, have no recourse via clemency at the hands of Walker. The incumbent Walker’s opponent, Tony Ever's has committed to redress the prison population and sentencing reform. Ever's is quoted as saying “this isn’t about being soft on crime, it’s being smart on crime,” affirming a pledge to reduce the state’s population from 23,500 to 11,000.

Wisconsin Vote Walker Out

On November 6th justice demands that the Wisconsin electorate vote Walker out. Walker having won two gubernatorial elections and a recall is running for his third term. There is no justice to be found in Walker’s Wisconsin, there is no relief available for the wrongfully convicted Brendan Dassey in Walker’s Wisconsin. Reform will have to wait a further four years if Walker were to win.

Exercise your due diligence to the young, the indigent, the disabled, intellectually challenged and place a vote that offers Brendan Dassey and all the Brendan’s swallowed by this archaic system, hope. Free Brendan Dassey.

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