Gov. Tony Evers has tapped a Racine City Council member to be the head of the state Parole Commission starting June 3.
The appointment of John Tate II is subject to confirmation by the state Senate. Tate said he plans to stay on as Racine’s District 3 alderman but will step down from his job as a social worker.
“Improving our parole system is an important part of reforming our criminal justice system and eliminating the racial disparities that have led to increased incarceration rates for people of color,” Evers said. “I know that John Tate II will be a strong advocate for the change we need to ensure our criminal justice system treats everyone fairly and focuses on rehabilitation. We can improve public safety and empower returning citizens at the same time.”
As a social worker, Tate said he believes he has the necessary insight to make the correct decisions as to which individuals receive parole.
“I’m trying to find ways to get people back to their communities,” Tate said. “And find the mechanisms that exist within DOC and also find the inefficiencies within DOC that leave these folks on the sidelines.”
Evers’ pick for parole commissioner has been eagerly anticipated by prison reform advocates. Under former Gov. Scott Walker the number of parolees dropped sharply while the prison population surged. The number of incarcerated is expected to reach a record 25,000 by 2021.
Truth-in-sentencing laws passed in the 1990s, Tate said, have in effect created two sets of qualifications that separate some prisoners.
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“We have two systems that are working between the new laws and the older laws of parole that don’t necessarily work well together and often is something that’s a disservice to those under the previous law that was supposed to work for them,” Tate said. “There’s some 3,000 or so individuals in the criminal justice system in the Department of Corrections right now that are still governed under that old law that governed the parole commission.”
Tate said our society should allow for people to have second chances.
“Either we believe people are redeemable or we don’t,” Tate said. “If we’re a society that believes people are redeemable then we have to create mechanisms that allow them to be redeemed and return to our society.”
Tate added that individuals who have served, in some cases, several decades in prison, should be able to show that they are not the same person they were when the crime was committed.
“I think there are a number of mechanisms that we have within the DOC that can measure whether a person has made that particular change or has warranted that second opportunity,” Tate said. “The job of the parole commission is to determine whether individuals who have been incarcerated have certainly demonstrated their rehabilitation.”
Tate II has been a vocal, active member of the Racine City Council since he was first elected in 2017. He was re-elected in April.
Tate ran for Racine Mayor Cory Mason’s former seat in the Legislature in 2018 and lost to Greta Neubauer, who now represents the 66th Assembly District. He advocated for putting a marijuana referendum on the city’s ballot last fall and authored a directive to the Racine Police Department to issue citations, instead of making criminal arrests, for first-time marijuana possession under 25 grams.