The Parole Transparency Act which provides more notice to victims of parole hearings and releases, and mandates more disclosure to the public, has passed the Wisconsin State Senate.
The act comes on the heels of Wisconsin Right Now’s award-winning investigative work exposing systemic failure by the state to notify victims’ family members and law enforcement in parole cases. WRN detailed the brutal murderers and rapists paroled by Gov. Tony Evers’ then appointee to the Parole Commission, some of whom were released without the victims’ families knowing.
Several amendments added additional safeguards for victims. They came after Wisconsin Right Now and Tim Erickson, the son of a murder victim whose killer was paroled, advocated for additional victims’ rights measures in Wisconsin law relating to paroles. The family members of Johanna Balsewicz, whose killer’s parole was approved but then rescinded last year, were instrumental in the act’s formation.
“Proposed reforms to the Wisconsin parole system giving more information and notice to the public about paroles passed the State Senate today. The Parole Transparency Act, Assembly Bill 47, requires victims be notified 90 days prior to hearing or release and requires internet posting of paroles granted, denied or revoked,” said a news release from state Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), the bill’s author.
“For far too long, the Parole Commission has operated in secrecy,” Van Wanggaard said. “The Parole Transparency Act shines a light on what is happening at the Commission. The public, especially crime victims, have a right to know who is being paroled, and when.”
According to Van Wanggaard, “Assembly Bill 47 was introduced earlier this year in response to investigations of the Parole Commission (Commission) in the fall of 2022.”
Parole Transparency Act
Vanggaard wrote that the bill was amended in the Senate following conversations with Parole Commission Chair-Designee Jon Erpenbach. Under the amended bill:
- The Commission must provide 90 days’ notice to victims of a parole interview.
- Victims are guaranteed the ability to make a statement at that interview if desired.
- The Commission is required to post the paroles granted, denied, and revoked on their website and parole guidance documents on a monthly basis.
- The Commission is required to publish demographic information, including the crimes of those granted parole on a yearly basis.
- Crime victims who were minors at the time of their victimization must receive notice of a parole hearing and release.”
“This bill alone doesn’t fix the problems we found at the Parole Commission, but it’s a good start,” said Wanggaard. “I am confident that legislation will be forthcoming to reform the Parole Commission and put more accountability in Wisconsin’s parole system.”
Because the Senate amended the Assembly bill, the bill “now returns to the Assembly for a vote. It is expected the Assembly will send the bill to Governor Evers this month,” he said.
Last October, WRN was successful in its open records lawsuit against the Wisconsin Parole Commission when Washington County Judge Michael S. Kenitz, an appointee of Gov. Tony Evers, ordered the Commission to immediately release the names of criminals freed on parole in 2022. The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit on WRN’s behalf.
This article originally appeared at Wisconsin Right Now and was reprinted with permission.