Law and Disorder Radio – Chicago Torture Cases and Jon Burge’s Deposition – California Prison Population Reduction – Hosts: Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady

Law and Disorder Radio

Justices Block Suit Over Use of Material Witness Law Against Detainee

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Re-Charged

The Conspirator Movie and Military Commissions










 Chicago Torture Cases and Jon Burge’s Deposition

Torture has cast a long shadow over Chicago and its past administrations. Yet in the past year, with the conviction and sentencing of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, Chicago has been a beacon of light in the fight against torture. Many are waiting to see how the city’s new administration will handle the ongoing torture cases of African-American men that number in the hundreds. Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for obstruction of justice and lying about torturing prisoners in the 1980s to obtain coerced confessions. Attorney Flint Taylor and the People’s Law Office in Chicago fought for decades to get prosecutions and sentencing while the city spent millions of dollars to fund private lawyers for Burge’s defense.

Attorney Flint Taylor:

  • We’ve been working on these cases since 1986. Deposing Jon Burge: we were reaffirming to the African American community that he was in prison and he is a prisoner.
  • He was complaining about the lack of medical care and the kind of treatment he felt he should be getting.
  • The struggle to put him behind bars has come to fruition. Pin-stripe patronage, the city funding Burge’s defense. Rahm Emanuel needs to change course, he’s very close to Daly.
  • Daly’s policy was not to settle these cases, not to apologize to the victims.
  • There’s another issue about Burge getting his pension even though he’s in the joint.
  • When you’re convicted you’re supposed to lose your pension.
  • There’s eight people on the pension board; four of them are former cops.
  • Several of the men who were responsible for Burge going to the penitentiary don’t have a claim civilly, never got a penny for the torture they suffered.
  • There are about 20 men still in jail, still in the prisons, based on tortured confessions by Burge and his men.
  • There is a demand to challenge these confessions, its been happening on a piece-meal basis.
  • You most often find that torture does not lead to information that is useful. In the situation here it is to punish African-American people.
  • It’s a very racist type of torture in this city. There’s linkage here in what happened in Guantanamo, what happened in Abu Ghraib.
  • The Fraternal Order of Police: They’re a very reactionary force when reforming the police department generally. In the early nineties when they fired Burge, the FOP stood up and paid for his defense.
  • In case that has gotten him to prison now, the FOP paid a million dollars for 3 lawyers of his choice. Now, the same lawyers have switched hats, and the city is now paying them in the civil cases that we talked about.
  • When it gets to a point where the city can’t pay for his defense, the FOP steps in.
  • Burge deposition: I set up a series of questions for 3 hours where he consistently took the fifth amendment to all questions that would have implicated him if he answered truthfully.

Guest – Attorney Flint Taylor, a graduate of Brown University and Northwestern University School of Law and a founding partner of the People’s Law Office.

California Inmate Reductions

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling had ordered California to release 46,000 of its 143,435 inmates, which has the state trying to figure out what happens next. The SCOTUS ruling affirmed a lower court order that required California to reduce its inmate population to 137% capacity. The state’s prisons are now at about 180% capacity and one cause of overcrowding problems is the state’s “three strikes” law which puts third time offenders in jail for life. Meanwhile, under Governor Brown’s current “re-alignment” program, the tens of thousands convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes will serve sentences under county instead of state supervision. Our guest Professor Ruth Gilmore said to one media source: “County jail expansion does not solve the underlying problems. These are goals we can achieve now if we take this opportunity to shrink prisons and jails. Building bigger jails to ease prison numbers is the same as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic: wasting the same dollars in different jurisdictions.”

Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore:

  • California is out of line with the rest of country when it comes to parole policy. California sends twice the number of people back to prisons than other jurisdictions, when the person has committed a technical violation, late for a meeting, that kind of thing.
  • For that reason, California prisons have been bulging.
  • We see that numbers are kept up by this one category, parole violation return to custody. They have to start over and over and over again.
  • The Supreme Court ordered the Department of Corrections to reduce the number of people in its custody in its current physical plant. In the 33 prisons, prison camps and dozens of facilities.
  • One method to thin the prison population is shipping about 10,000 prisoners out of the state of California, renting space in other jurisdictions. They’ve been shipping prisoners out of California for two and a half years.
  • Cost does not seem to have an important effect on the kinds of political decisions that have been made about prison expansion throughout the United States for the last 30 years.
  • A year and a half ago the state presented a plan to the Ninth District court saying here are the changes that we will make to meet the 3 judges’ order that we reduce the number of people in the California State Authority Physical Plant.
  • Then, the 3 judges agreed to let California delay in implementing the plan, while they appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • California is the proving ground for a new relationship between the state and society. California is a place that started turning its back on public education.
  • For some time, the union of California prison guards was a political force and continue to be quite powerful.
  • There are many alternatives to locking somebody in a cage for part or all of their life. We should be cautious in thinking GPS tracking is the answer, because one of the huge barriers that people convicted of a felony face in their lives, is the impossibility of them reintegrating into society.
  • My colleague Michelle Alexander has put out a call in a campaign to end the New Jim Crow.

Guest – Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (University of California Press, 2007), which was recognized by ASA with its Lora Romero First Book Award. Gilmore’s wide-ranging research interests also include race and gender, labor and social movements, uneven development, and the African diaspora. At the University of Southern California she taught courses in race and ethnicity, economic geography, and political geography, was the founding chair of the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, and won the USC-Mellon Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring. She also works regularly with community groups and grassroots organizations and is known for the broad accessibility of her research. She holds a Ph.D. in economic geography and social theory from Rutgers University.