Hans W. Mattick and Father Robert Taylor discuss the scandal at Cook County Jail
BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:57:46
Content Warning: This conversation includes racially and/or culturally derogatory language and/or negative depictions of Black and Indigenous people of color, women, and LGBTQI+ individuals. Rather than remove this content, we present it in the context of twentieth-century social history to acknowledge and learn from its impact and to inspire awareness and discussion. Former Assistant Warden of the Cook County Jail, Hans W. Mattick, and Father Robert Taylor both say that it shouldn't be surprising to anyone that if you place inmates in a social situation where they live and are treated like animals, some of the inmates will behave like animals. Mattick says there's an over-crowding problem at the jail, that anywhere between 1600-2400 inmates are there daily. When the jail was built, the thought was to only house men inmates, however, they soon learned women commit crimes, too. The space that was reserved for the hospital became the housing space for women, and as a result, the jail didn't have a hospital for a year.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Well, there have been headlines during recent weeks concerning scandal quote unquote capital S. Perhaps without quotes, too, scandal at the [Cook] County Jail and scapegoats have been named, indeed pinpointed. And we have two guests who, perhaps, can tell us more about this than any couple of guys in town outside of the inmates themselves. But these guys were there, are there, you know, on occasion. Hans W. Mattick, formerly the Assistant Warden of the County Jail and now the Associate Professor for The Center of Studies in, I believe, Criminal Justice.
Hans Mattick Right.
Studs Terkel At The University of Chicago Law School and Father Robert Taylor who is the Director of St. Leonard's House which is a halfway house which is where many prisoners, men who have served time, try to adjust to the outside world. Before we hear from Hans Mattick and Father Taylor and their own comments about the headlines, about the editorials, about the politics, about the truth or falsehood of what's happening, a voice of a guy I met. Hans, when you were still Assistant Warden, there were a number instituted when Joe Lohman was the Sheriff--
Hans Mattick Yes.
Studs Terkel Of certain lectures to prisoners--this was a jazz lecture--and about an hour before the Jazz lecture in which I discovered that the men there know far more about it than I ever could, particularly Billie Holiday, I talked to some of the guys and this one guy was talking and here's what he had to say:
Male Voice 1 Now, myself, I got started when I was young. I went to the penitentiary when I was 17 going on 18 years old. I got out when I was 22 and I had a vocational knowledge---enough to do a decent job for my employer and everything, and I made an honest effort to learn something while I was not at the penitentiary. And, when I come out, I applied for the job and I got hired and I worked two weeks, not even two weeks. And the man lays me off, all right, then I can't get that job. Now during this time I was married and I had two kids. All right? Then you feel that you've got to do something-you can't be choosy when you've got a wife and two kids at home. You've got to find some kind of way to support them. I mean, after all they have to eat, too, you know? If you a criminal or no criminal you still have to eat. Well, I go and apply for another welding job. And the man said, "How much experience do you have?" I said. "Well, I went to school for three years" and he said, "Well, what was the last place you worked?" So I tell him the last place I worked and he said, "How long ago was that?" And you tell him three years ago and he say, "Well, what you been doing in these three years?" You know? So you can't tell him that you haven't been doing anything because, well, I've been doing a little bit: jobs washing dishes here, scrubbing floors there, and it's really a blow to a human being that--to a man, because that's a child's job--for a kid in school maybe off for summer vacation you can see him doing work like that. But a man with education both vocational and scholastic, too, it's kind of hard to accept a low-paying job where a man pays you seven dollars for nine hours work. Now that's the actual truth.
Studs Terkel And then he goes on to describe how he couldn't get relief because they didn't believe that he was ill. And so finally he stole. And so finally he wound up at the county jail where I saw him. Your thoughts, Hans or Father Taylor, on hearing him. I know, a voice and words that are familiar to you.
Hans Mattick Well, that's a frequent pattern, undoubtedly. And it goes to one of the two or three basic problems that confronts American society today. Besides the issue of war and peace I suppose the next one is the issue of race and Black and white and the relations between them and this man shows both the effects of having grown up as a Negro and the consequences in part of the disabilities that were visited upon him as a result of that and how he then confronts his status as an adult male Negro looking for work in a society that has not given him adequate training and it is not very likely to reward him in the employment opportunities that it has to offer. And so he's kind of from pillar to post and in between times it shouldn't surprise us if such persons have less respect for the law and are more likely under duress to commit crimes.
Robert Taylor Yeah, it speaks volumes doesn't it? The assault on a man's manhood and his reaction to it and, I think also, implicit there in his comments, is a real question as to not the legality or illegality of the act of stealing but the morality of a member of a minority group or subculture making his way in predatory activity against the majority or dominant culture.
Studs Terkel Later on there will be another voice. That's some other voices--young white guys. One kid was in, he first became a criminal when he was 11 years old, now 22. I thought, perhaps, since the subject of race is involved and bars--the actual bars and the other bars of the spirit--Hans, the question will come up immediately: We've heard sensational news, you know, horrendous news about the county jail involving homosexual practices, the brutality when one does not take part in these practices, the barn boss and his dictatorial fascist air, and some have found--politicians, we know, have found a scapegoat in, perhaps, one of the most enlightened wardens in the country, Jack Johnson. And so your comments. Are these, are what is happening/what's happened and now we have a prurient, respectable middle class man outside saying, "Tell me, is it true??"
Hans Mattick Well, if you ask me if it's true I think I have to answer in a kind of an indirect way. And that is I have to say that everything that has been alleged about the county jail and institutions like it all over the country, I might say, everything is possible. Only some of it, however, is probable. And in the last analysis very little of it will be provable. At the same time the situation in which persons find themselves in the jail are really productive of this kind of a animalistic kind of an existence. And if you make your social arrangements where dealing with people in such a way as to produce animals you shouldn't be surprised that some of them act like animals. And these charges and the rest of it are a result, really, of a situation that practically makes some of that inevitable.
Robert Taylor Absolutely. That's a beautiful answer. I think you can't look at the Cook County Jail without taking into it, without taking into account its architecture, the social situation that it creates for the inmate population, as well as the guard staff population to live in. And Hans is right. You can't be surprised having created such a situation that you would have such an outcome.
Hans Mattick I think that maybe we ought to address ourself a great deal has been said about the barn boss system. Let's see in what sense that kind of a system arises and is practically inevitable in the county jail because many people feel it's--
Robert Taylor Yes.
Hans Mattick Yeah. I think that, however, in the county jail that everything about the county jail cooperates to foster it and at the same time it is not true that the prison administration goes to particular locations in the jail and says you will be a leader and I will recognize you and treat with you and you will be a leader and I will recognize and treat with you. That is not the way it goes. Let me start by diverting to a kind of an outside analogy. If a group of people of diverse backgrounds and skills were on a ship and there was a shipwreck and they were cast up on an island you would find that as a result of their situation a leadership pattern would emerge confronting this new situation. In that situation the stockbroker who might be a very brilliant man or let us say the person who knows IBM computers and is very bright might be relatively useless compared to a man who has basic blacksmith's skills or somebody who knows how to read the geographical signs and the topography and so forth and so on and so a different kind of a leadership structure would grow out of that situation. Well, now let me make the analogy to the jail. The jail is so built that the very things that keep the inmates on one side of the bars, of necessity keep the guards on the other side and so they cannot interact very well. As a matter of fact it is extremely awkward for a guard to get from his guard post into the inside of the jail where the inmates are interacting with one another. If a guard were to hear one inmate say to another inmate, "I am going to kill you," all that that guard could do is to go and pick up a phone, call the Captain and say, "Captain, there is going to be a killing if we do not hurry." Now watch this sequence of events which is a commentary on the architecture of the jail. What the Captain now does is he phones a man who is in the basement in the center of the jail and he says, "Get on up to G-3." That is the third floor of the G block in the back of the building. "I will meet you up there with the other key." Now the Captain leaves the administration building, he runs along the first floor, he runs up the three flights of the front steps. Meantime, the man in the basement, in the center of the basement, runs to the end of the basement, opens a rear door, runs up four flights from the basement to the third floor of the back steps of the G Block. Now two keys meet and now they are able to go in there. Obviously in that time
Hans Mattick Rigor mortis has set in! [laughter] And so I want to indicate by that that what happens on the other side of the bar is a world and a law unto itself. Inside of that world there are very few goods or services or values. One of the few is food in the jail. Medicine is another one. Mobility is a third. Now in addition to this crazy arrangement of gates and rear stairs and front stairs in order to get into the jail, the genius who dreamed up this jail pattern on Jeremy Bentham principles of utilitarianism devised a dumbwaiter system. The dumbwaiter system is such that you put the food in in the basement and then the food goes up the dumbwaiters up the four flights, up the four floors of the jail and the elevator opens up on the upper floors where the inmates have direct access to them. Obviously there is going to be an immediate rough sorting largely based on strength and cunning as to who controls that elevator door where the goodies come in and he is going to establish there a system of justice that Plato referred to as justice fit for a city of pigs and that is the system of justice where you hurt your friends and do favors for your enemies. That's the kind of system of justice. And so the elevator man, or known as the kitchen man, he controls the food. So you have immediately, simply by the architecture, not only made the situation inaccessible but you have put enormous power into the hands of that individual or that clique that controls the distribution of the food. Obviously the designer of this jail thought of all of the thousands of dollars he was going to save in employees' salaries over the food service problem never dreaming that by doing this he effectively puts control or at least puts part of the control of the jail into the hands of the inmates. And so you have inside of that on the other side of the bars the growth of a social structure among the inmates who form a community that is inaccessible on the side of the administration and that social structure will be based on cunning and on strength and on temporary alliances and the whole thing on a shifting and transient base where no ethics and no basic decency can really develop. Let me give you just one more analogy and I'll spell it out. If a man goes to a state prison he knows he is going to have to be there for a minimum of 11 months. And if you're going to have to live with another guy for 11 months you don't steal from him, you don't take advantage of him. You've got to make it with him, see? But in the county jail where 45 inmates come in every day and go out every day there's so much transiency that you can't even get that basic stratum.
Hans Mattick That's right. That's right. And this is what creates in part the jungle atmosphere inside which all of these charges, most of which are possible, only some of which are probable, take place.
Robert Taylor Actually, you see, the jail itself was built and I was amazed when I refreshed my mind on the percentage of inmates who were unsentenced in the first years of the operation of the jail from 1929. At the beginning 93 percent of the inmates were not sentenced at all which meant that they were planned to be there on a very short-term basis. In effect you could say that the county jail was designed as a massive police lockup.
Studs Terkel A massive police lockup. But Hans Mattick, it would seem, Father Taylor, has found us the scapegoat. That's exactly the point. That the scapegoat IS the society outside that has designed this kind of building.
Robert Taylor Mmm-hmm.
Hans Mattick And that permits it to continue to exist for many years. Now let me complicate that picture for you. When the jail opened in February of 1929 it had a cell capacity of 1302. When they filled it up that April they transferred in 1368 inmates. All males. So it was overcrowded the first day it received its inmates. It has been overcrowded ever since with its population fluctuating someplace between 1600 and 2400 at any one time. About an average of 1800 inmates. The brilliant people who built that jail--first of all ,it hadn't occurred to them that women also get into trouble. And so they were immediately confronted with the problem: What are we going to do with female jail inmates? So when they brought the first contingent of female jail inmates into the jail they had to put them into that portion of the jail which had been intended to be the hospital. And what that meant was that for the next 30 years the jail had no hospital until one was built under Lohman's administration in 1957. In addition to that they overlooked the heating plant, incidentally, it didn't have any heating plant when it opened up. And so there must have been some ludicrous kind of political hanky-panky going on there.
Studs Terkel Don't we come back again, Hans, to the theme? This is italicizing, Father Taylor, that the people behind those bars are not 'really human.' That is, they're less than the person outside because they would have thought of, obviously. Or these facilities you name for a home or a building or a school [that is to assume with all the flaws in schools?] Or a hospital. But a jail! You know?
Robert Taylor The construction of the jail, the design of the jail, has defined them as less than human so we shouldn't be surprised when they behave that way and I think this was Hans' opening statement. I think the other thing that's terribly important is the, you know, the barn boss system has been so much in the public press. And I think you've put your finger on it, Hans. The fact that the problems of the architecture of the jail have handed over to the inmate leadership enormous power. Power that is not possible now even to be curbed without radically altering the system. I was interested--we were talking about these things the other night at St. Leonard's house and a member of our staff, one of our counselors, is a former inmate and was a barn boss in the County Jail from time to time during the 1950s when you were there and we were talking about the attempt that was made to intervene in the barn boss--
Hans Mattick I remember that very well. I can describe it to you. And that is I hadn't been in the jail more than three or four months when I realized that the reality on the other side of that bar--on those bars--was this social structure. And that it was largely predatory and negative. And so we counseled together at the time, we had some very good professional people in the jail at that time, as to whether or not it wouldn't be possible to subvert the system or to use it in some way since it was going to be in the situation in any case no matter what we tried to do. So what we did is we took, I think, the current barn bosses at that time and we brought them down to the basement and we said to them we are going to organize an uncensored newspaper in this jail and we really mean that it's going to be uncensored although we expect you to observe the canons of decent language usage. But there will be nothing that will not be allowed; you can criticize the administration and so forth. And one of the things we were trying to do is we were trying to set up a means of communication in a highly transient population between the administration and its inmate population for which it had responsibility. But we said at the time we are not going to have any people called barn bosses in this jail in the future. Anybody who is, who refers to himself as a barn boss in the future is looking for three days in the hole. And so I don't want to hear that term.
Hans Mattick in the hole. In the hole. Yeah. Solitary. In isolation, that's right. And I said, we're going to designate you people--we're going to call you tier clerks--that's your original, that's your title. In other words this was, at the first level it's a rhetorical change, you know, it's like calling a prison a reformatory. It's a rhetorical change but it's a necessary one, see? And once a week we're going to have meetings and we're going to tell you what's going on in the jail. And if there are rules to be promulgated, why, we'll pass them on. And if you have some kind of complaints about what's going on you bring those to those meetings and so forth and so on. And I think that we succeeded at least in being able to establish in that very poor and shifting situation at least some species of communication between the administration and the inmates by this device and by the uncensored newspaper, The Grapevine [?]. However, it didn't take very long with recidivists coming back and with the inmate turnover that you just couldn't stay on top of the situation. And when you looked again what you found out is that the old system had reasserted itself and had co-opted the tier clerk system. So now you had an invisible barn boss
Hans Mattick That's right. And although the positive gain here was at least some communications, you were really--because you didn't have enough staff, you didn't have enough intervention on the other side of those bars that systems continually reasserted itself out of the natural social processes on the other side of those bars.
Robert Taylor The interesting thing in a house meeting last week and we were discussing this very thing and this very point emerged. This guy said, "I remain barn boss." He said, "I had a tier clerk that I sent down to the meetings every week". You know.
Robert Taylor His front man. And somebody else pointed out that this was a perfect replication of the political picture in Chicago where the Ward Committeeman stands behind the screen and sends out his Alderman, you know, to represent him in the city council.
Studs Terkel This gets us back to this recurring theme, doesn't it? The nub of the problem--that the relationships, this, that you're describing, behind bars, really, is a reflection of our society that is respectable, isn't it? That is, you spoke of leadership, how at a certain--whoever is this guy, has strength, power, clout, whatever it might be. The architecture designed by someone who represents our society--who obviously considers men in prison less than human, is part of it but also the--what happens is what could happen outside, as Father Taylor has said, in our political life should be quite clear.
Hans Mattick And also what continues to happen for this reason: suppose that even with the bad plant the way it is that you wanted to treat of it effectively. What is it that the warden is expected to do? Now it is true that the warden has been made responsible for running the jail. But obviously he simply carries out the policy of the elected official who is the Sheriff. And so the Sheriff is the determining policy man in this picture. What they have to do is they have to get together and they have to make a presentation to the Cook County Board of Commissioners and say to them, "Look, we need more money in order to do more constructive things in the jail." And then that request has to compete with all of the other requests that are made on the County Board and the budget considerations that come up from time to time. In addition to that they also have to draw up their staff needs and present them to a subcommittee of judges which is called the Circuit Court Judges Committee on Help and they have to go to them and say, "look, we need so and so much staff in order to ameliorate this situation." Now believe it or not when I did this in 1956 on its merits when I was still, so to speak, 'politically naive' I actually went before the Circuit Court Judges Committee on Help and said, "Look, if you want to run this jail decently you need 132 more guards." Well, they nearly fell over, see? "And why do you need the guards?" Well, let's take it as an example what has been granted to the jail by this year's hearings in the Circuit Court Judges Committee on Help. They've given them an extra 20 guards. All right? Now we have to consider that the jail runs 365 days a year and it runs on three shifts. And so 20 guards distributed over three shifts is slightly less than six guards per shift. Is that right? And since you work seven days a week in a jail two-sevenths of those six have to be off at any one time and so effectively they have been granted four and a half guards. It's in those terms that you have to think. It's not simply a question that the numbers look deceptive. This is a human situation that has to be covered 24 hours a day. That is three working day hours every year, three eight-hour shifts and 365 days a year. And so the personnel requirements look inordinate.
Robert Taylor Yeah.
Robert Taylor 132 additional. Yeah. Right. The John Howard Association three months ago, or a month ago in their report said 150 more guards are needed as a minimum to run the jail in any effective way.
Hans Mattick Of what the consequences are of having the number of guards they have now. Now I think that if we put the number of guards equal to 100 percent I would say that they probably employ 60 percent on the day shift. Why? Because all of the movement: people have to be sent to court, visitors come there, lawyers come there, and so forth. So that leaves about 40 percent of the guards for the other two shifts. Well, you'll probably use 25 percent of those on the 4 to 12 shift and the remaining 15 percent on the graveyard shift. Now that means on the 4 to 12 shift that one guard is responsible for watching in effect two floors and four separate tiers and is responsible for about 225 men. Now at night the men go from a small day room at the front of the jail back to their cells and they go to sleep there and at least theoretically they're supposed to be locked in there. But the jail was so constructed that there is only a public toilet up near the front of the tier. And there are toilets in the front five cells only of the jail. So all night long this guard has to go from floor to floor while the inmates shout to him, "Give me a knock down!" meaning 'I want to get out and go to toilet.' And he can't sit there on one floor and wait until everybody on that floor has gone to toilet because as soon as he becomes visible on one tier on one side the people on the other side see him and they begin yelling or hear him, "Give us a knock down," and so he's running all around all night letting people in and out of cells going to toilet. Now if people have aggressive designs on one another and this man can only be at one location out of four at any one time you shouldn't be surprised that you get a great deal of violence visited on people during these knock downs to go to toilet in a plant that has inadequate plumbing. I think the one other point about that plumbing which is very crucial about the jail is that it tells you by looking at it that that jail was designed for male adults awaiting trial because you don't have open toilets in a female institution, see? So you know it was designed for males. You know from the lack of rehabilitative facilities that it was meant for people who were awaiting trial and were conceived to be transient and for adults because there is no differentiation between the different cells. And so one of the problems we can put our hands on immediately is to say that anything that is in that jail that is not a male and an adult who is awaiting trial constitutes a problem because the building was not designed to handle [them?].
Robert Taylor Right.
Studs Terkel You know, Father Taylor--what were you about to say? I think there's another aspect here throughout--again this theme that recurs, attitude of the outside world toward people who are serving time--is the impersonal aspect. And also, that is, highly impersonal. These are statistics, quite obviously, what they are rather than human beings--men or women. Statistics. It's the impersonal thing that makes for the personal violence or impersonal--or impersonal violence I suppose.
Hans Mattick I think there is a certain amount of impersonal violence. Let's take it from this point of view: there has been made reference to the fact that there is a day room in the front of each tier. That day room measures 30 by 21 feet. Now behind that day room is cell space for 39 persons. I read the brochure that was published the opening day of the jail which said, "The cells in this jail were built purposely so small that they could not accommodate more than one person at a time thereby ensuring individual segregation." That's what they said. And, yet, we know the jail is 60 or 70 percent overcrowded. So we know they're putting two men in cells that were only designed for one. So it comes morning, the men leave their cells, and they come into this space which is 20 by 31 feet. Now there are 50 or 60 men in that space but it's not all floor space because through that dumbwaiter up comes the food and it's got to be eaten and so there are four tables. So you have four eating tables that are taking up floor space. So you have 60 men in a space 30 by 21 less the amount of space taken by the tables. And so men are sitting around, walking around, laying around. Each one of them is preoccupied with his case, 'Am I going to make it? Am I going to beat it? How much time am I going to get?' In short, a seething kind of a psychological atmosphere. And in this a man is preoccupied, is walking around, and so he steps with his foot on the step of another man who is in a similar psychological state. Do you wonder that there's sudden outbursts under these conditions where men are forced in on each other in this way? It's almost an inevitability.
Robert Taylor Right.
Robert Taylor And I think your comment about the in-personality of prison--of course, prison is never a pleasant experience for anyone and I think the in-personality which a prison must impose on an individual is probably one of the important factors in forming his attitude. I think I've told you this story because it's an old one and it recurs from time to time but occasionally at St. Leonard's House it will happen that someone will ask, you know, "Father Taylor, who's coming from such and such an institution next week? Who's coming from Stateville next week?" and I'll come up with the name John Doe and if it's at the dinner table everyone will sort of look blank and shake their heads and say we never heard of him. And somebody at the other end of the table will say, "Well, what's his number?" and I'll fumble around and find his number and read off a five digit number and then immediately light will dawn on so three or four--
Hans Mattick By telling you a prison joke. Now, here's a prison joke: A warden comes and he has a prominent visitor and they're going through the prison, see? And as they go through they pass groups of prisoners and as they do one among those groups of prisoners will say, "47," and everyone will go, "Ahh Haa Haa!" and they'll laugh and they'll carry on. And they go on a little further and there's another group of prisoners and somebody says, "321," and everyone [laughs] and so the prominent visitor says to the Warden, "What are they doing?" And he says, "Well," he says, "they're telling jokes. After all they've been here long enough and they know--everybody knows all the jokes there are to tell. And so they've simply given each one of them a number. And so now they just make reference to the numbers and everybody knows and everybody laughs. So the prominent visitor says, "Well," he says, "that's very interesting." He says, "You know, I'd like to try it. Let's see what happens." See? So they came to the next group of prisoners and so he said, "214," and everybody looked blank. So he said to the Warden, "Well, what happened?" So the warden said, "Well, some people just can't tell a joke." [laughter]
Studs Terkel No, because it deals with gag writers: the same joke gets changed to show how, as you were saying earlier, prison life is the way it is outside. The same joke is told by a gag writer who worked for Hollywood during the days when radio was in flower--the comedy [unintelligible] of the day. They had files, files, files: ethnic joke, this kind of joke, 21, 27, howling. If I want to get this [reaction?], 54. No laughter. How come? The guy says, 'That's an anti-Semitic gag.' [laughter] [tape stop/start?] That's the thing that's the parallel here is the prisoners. Numbers. People outside. Files and numbers. Because there's a phrase you used before we went on: "The way it is today." Is this what you find, Father Taylor? From the guys who have come out and may be recidivists?
Robert Taylor There's a variety of ways in which, you know, life in prison or life in jail reflects the larger society. I can't remember exactly how he said it and I'll just have to paraphrase but Lenin said, you know, 'You never understand the country you live in until you've been in prison there.' And I think this is a very important way that--the way in which society treats its outcasts and its poor and its prisoners reflects a great deal on the values of the society. But beyond that I think the business about the impersonalization or the assaults on human personality that a jail experience fosters are, perhaps, more telling reflections of the larger society. In a way prison life characterizes, caricatures the society outside and its violence and its preoccupation with sexual violence which often in jail is not simply the outcome of the denial of heterosexual contact. Prison violent--violent prison homosexuality, it seems to me, to many of us, oftentimes to have a much more highly symbolic character than simply the denial of a physiological outlet. And this is especially true I think currently in the county jail where many other factors are operating.
Hans Mattick I think it should be said that the homosexual adjustment in prison also is ordinarily a transient kind of an adjustment. After all this is a single sex society and people continue to have their sexual needs and some of them therefore adjust to what the situation in effect offers them. And I'm sure that prison could be much more humanized in that respect but it's also sublim--
Hans Mattick And also, I think, in the Scandinavian prisons they make a great effort to bring women in as workers in order to have what we might call the gentle influence of the fairer sex moderate some of the hardness of a male culture in the prison setting.
Studs Terkel So, again, we have another reflection, you know, again we're coming--of course the scapegoat now is quite clear: The scapegoat is our society and its attitude towards human beings reflecting itself in prison, reflecting itself in matters of sex, the Puritan ethic involved here, the fact that it is sinful, basically. All this leads to, obviously, these events in one form or another--they're clearer, don't they?
Hans Mattick And, I think also, that prison in a way works out some very strange contradictions that people are simply not aware of in the sense that it sometimes looks as if we have designed an institution not only to maladjust men but also to ensure their continuance in a career of crime and that is to confirm the criminal career. Let me cite you an example of what I mean by that. Let us say that a young man from a rather middle class community gets involved with a group of others and they smoke some marijuana and they are caught with marijuana and they're taken into police custody and then they are taken to court and the rest of it. Everything that happens before the jail is designed to impress them with the serious view that society takes of this; that they have offended against the laws. And what we might call it--we might call it a degradation ceremony has taken place--redefining their status as persons who have committed a criminal act. Now that young man is put into the E-block which is the juvenile block in the county jail and he walks in to that social situation on the other side of the bars and he falls into conversation pretty soon with someone else and they say. "Well, what are you in for?" and he says, "Possession of marijuana." Well, his listener will break up laughing because this is considered a mopery charge--that is a boy scout type of charge. And so this entire ceremonial of degradation designed to impress him with the seriousness of what he has done suddenly is reconverted as that he has done nothing at all or that it's hardly worth taking notice of. And then comes the really harmful aspect of the social life on the other side of the bars is when they go on and say, "Well, that ain't nothin', what you've done, and if you're interested in any REAL kicks
Hans Mattick Then what you've got to do is you've got to get a hold of some good heroin. And I know a place over on 47th Street or at Broadway and Lawrence where you can make a buy" and so and so where you can get a needle and this and that. And so the entire ceremony that was designed to impress in one way is simply negated.
Hans Mattick And then he gets guidance in a criminal career and that's ludicrous to me to have that kind of thing happening over and over again and it does in a jail that cannot classify and segregate its inmates on sound penological principles.
Robert Taylor It sure does. It leads to one of the current points, I think is terribly important to deal with, and I don't think anybody is really dealing with it publicly yet. And this is the way in which in the last two years the entire correctional system beginning with enforcement on through the judiciary and then finally the correctional institution itself has been really subverted to deal with a different set of social problems. We were talking before we went on about, you know, the other institutions other than the jail that are going to have to be tinkered with before some of the problems in the jail can be dealt with. For example, the courts and the way in which the courts are administering the bonding process. The release of a man on bond--a process which is set up to ensure a man's freedom, or to make possible a man's freedom--which is, has been for a very long time and now in an almost flagrant way being used not to free people but to ensure their custody and to ensure their incarceration. And I think one of the curious things now is that it's very clear that a number of judges sort of see themselves as standing alone between anarchy and order in the streets when it comes to mob action or riot situation charges arising out of violent outbreaks from the ghetto. And we've packed the jail with a number of angry young men who really oughtn't to be there. And the curious double effect of this has been I think on the one hand to give the jail population a political consciousness that it's never had before on some of the tiers. Especially the youthful tiers. They're better politically organized than they've ever been in the past. And on the other hand we're giving these angry young men out of the ghetto charged with mob action or charged with allegations of mob action a criminal sophistication, you know, that they could never buy anywhere else. It's almost fantastically like a perverse reversal of effect that's desired.
Hans Mattick Well, I think, though, that we ought to address ourselves to the local situation as to some of the things that if there is any disposition whatsoever to do anything about it--and that of course is a debatable point--whether anybody is really interested. But presuming that we can take all this moral indignation seriously what kinds of steps might be taken to at least alleviate the current situation? And I think I'd like to have a shot at that and then maybe Father Taylor can make up some of my deficiencies. Let me start at the far end. We know that about 80 percent of the inmates at the county jail are unsentenced at present and we know that about 40 or 50 percent of those will ultimately be disposed of by some process other than conviction. That is they will not be convicted of anything: they'll be Nolle prossed or they will be released or whatever it is but they will not be convicted. So 40 percent are going to be let go in any case. And so they are innocent until proven guilty and are never proven guilty. That's 40 percent. Well, that immediately suggests that there are certainly different standards being used at the police level than at the judicial level. In other words the courts in effect are saying to the police, "You are arresting far too many people because we are obliged to turn about 40 percent of them loose." And so one of the ways in which to stop the floodgates of people going into the jail might be to tighten up somewhat on the standards for arrest on the street and that is to arrest fewer people or to arrest them with stricter kinds of standards. Secondly, when persons then make appearances before the grand jury obviously many more people are being indicted than are being convicted. And so again here might be a place where standards might be tightened up to prevent people from being in effect uselessly indicted. And so here you have two steps that don't cost any money anyplace. Now let's go beyond that and take that portion of them that do go to court. Well, there are alternative dispositions and that is you can make more liberal use of such things as suspended sentences or the use of probation. Now what happens in Cook County there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what probation ought to be and that is probation ought to be reserved for those cases who you don't want to contaminate with the jail experience but rather you want them to be able to continue on their jobs and to maintain their family contacts. But we have many judges in Cook County who apparently don't know what probation means because what they do is they give a man three-years probation the first six months served in the county jail thereby contradicting the basic purpose of probation. So what I'm saying is that they ought to resort a great deal more to probation in appropriate cases.
Studs Terkel These suggestions, the remedies offered and some very simple ones, we'll see, perhaps, Hans Mattick, I think are becoming less and less popular on the public mind, aren't they? On the contrary, it seems to be the case more and more punishment, I guess.
Studs Terkel Aren't we coming back, aren't we coming back to the true scapegoat? That world outside and its values and the hysteria that is part of it. Father Taylor, Hans was suggesting--your thoughts, too, here?
Hans Mattick [unintelligible].
Robert Taylor Yeah, I think the police notion is a very good one, the probation notion. I think in between the grand jury to some way modify the perceptions of the grand jury and returning indictments. But between that there's a very important remedy that is available. It's one that's been talked about in the papers and by a great many people in the last several months. This is the use of release on recognizance--the release of a man without a cash bond but simply on his word that he would return to court. One of the groups, outside groups, interested in the jail brought in some professionals from the University of Wisconsin who made a study at the jail using the criteria that have been used in New York and in Baltimore for the very fine release on recognizance programs there and they found that somewhere between 45 and 55 percent of the inmates currently incarcerated in the jail in lieu of cash bonds--that is, they're incarcerated because they can't come up with X hundred dollars in cash--could safely be released simply on their word to return to court.
Robert Taylor Yeah.
Robert Taylor Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Hans Mattick Let me give voice to what might be considered a rather exotic or novel element(s) that could be introduced in the jail which I would predict would make very great changes. And I know nothing in the law that would prevent it. And that is this: I said before that 80 percent of the inmates were awaiting sentence or were awaiting trial there. That means that they are innocent until proven guilty. Now that means that they don't have any disabilities on their civil rights at least theoretically and therefore I wonder whether it couldn't be possible that the Board of Election Commissioners could have registrars go into the jail prior to election time and register the inmates to vote. And then when the election days came that the inmates would participate in the election. Now quite apart from this being to participate in some of the democratic processes and would be good from a civic point of view let us consider what the effects of this might be. You're out in the 22nd Ward, you have the Cook County Jail and the House of Corrections sitting side by side. Between them there are probably something like 3500 votes sitting there. Well, if these persons voted for their representatives, I know of at least one alderman who would start making considerably more sense about the penal picture locally. I know of two committee men who might be much more interested in the local penological picture. I know of at least three people in the state legislature who suddenly would find that this is a problem that can no longer be safely ignored because you would now have hitched the fortunes of the jail to the political fortunes and survival of certain of the political decision makers who can have an effect on the jail. And so it is for that reason, rather than for its civic aspects, that I think, that that's the kind of thing that would make for respect and clout.
Robert Taylor They're powerless and I think another very important theme that's been running through the time we've spent together is that prisons and jails perform a very real and, I think, important function for society in that they do provide a means for keeping social problems out of sight and therefore out of mind. And certainly your proposal to re-enfranchise the unsentenced population of the jail would attack that
Hans Mattick I think there is also, from a psychological point of view, I think that people who are in prison ultimately also serve a kind of a cathartic function for the rest of our society. I think we have to look at it this way: I think that the public is interested in crime as long as it has elements of the drama of a contest between good and evil. And that is the crime has been committed and it's reported in the mass media and everybody's interested. If the headline could say, 'Dope-crazed sex fiend rapes widow in love nest,' well, you really get a interested readership in that. Now everybody vicariously participates in the crime while maintaining their integrity and virtue.
Studs Terkel Righteousness.
Hans Mattick That's right. And they follow the process of the contest between good and evil as the police go about their work looking for the culprit. Then the man is arrested and identified and so forth. Then he goes to court and then there's a finding of guilty. Now everybody says, "Well, that's that. That takes care of that." And the problem drops out of sight. And so in that sense if you're only interested in the moral issues and in the psychological component you can see the sense in which these people play certain roles that may in some degree contribute to the mental health of the rest of society [Studs laughs] in a hypocritical sort of a way. It's kind of an offbeat view of that phenomena but I've seen it in the sense in which it's true.
Studs Terkel I like that--associate justice--in the tradition, shall we say, of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Brandeis, Black, and Douglass, but with criminal justice. I like that: justice and criminal justice. Works at Chicago Law School and Father Robert Taylor who is director of the St. Leonard's House. We started talking about a specific, what? Blot? On our local scutcheon situation at County and, yet, we know it's a much bigger blot. Indeed, it goes outside the bars. But you mentioned the prisoners and the poor and, of course, we just casually mentioned hospitals. The fact is County Hospital would be in it--though it's another subject--fits, does it not, in the category of poor and health? Here are the poor and the law. Because basically, by the way, as I'm sure Hans and Father Taylor and the guys at St. Leonard's, surveys or whatever it is, questions, that the economic bracket in which these men often are is what? Is the lowest category, I'm sure.
Hans Mattick Well, it's below the poverty level, no doubt about it, otherwise they would be making bond and they'd be out in the street. So you have to realize that the common quality of the persons who are currently in jail is not that they've been accused of crime--there are a lot of good people who have been accused of crime, some of whom are out in the street--but that they are poor and cannot make bond. That's the distinguishing feature of the vast majority. So it's poverty rather than criminality that gives them their common feature.
Robert Taylor Yeah. And, of course, this reflects all the way through the prison system, doesn't it? That the man who is poor and can't make bond is far more likely to show up in court with a poorer appearance than the man who does make bond and is able to go home, change into fresh clothes, make a fresh, clean appearance in court. Therefore is far more likely to be sentenced and if sentenced, or if found guilty and sentenced to the penitentiary and if sentenced to the penitentiary is apt to pick up a longer sentence than the man who appears to be middle class.
Studs Terkel And if I ask for some comments of your own--just final comments--given what thoughts about this this matter: the double standard--the poor and the affluent and justice. There's an Appalachian lady up in Uptown who works with the kids [unintelligible], Peggy Terry, a very remarkable woman who has "The Firing Line", Appalachian paper. So we describe our neighborhood as a 'Hey, you!' neighborhood from the police point of view whereas the middle class neighborhood is a 'Sir?' neighborhood. 'Hey, you!' as against 'Sir?' which pretty much tells a story, doesn't it?
Studs Terkel Where does this leave us? Father Taylor, perhaps a comment about your friends. The guys you know, the former inmates of jails and prisons who are now trying to make their way in this quote unquote 'respectable' world outside of St. Leonard's. Their thoughts about this as through you then Hans has some comments.
Robert Taylor Gosh. Studs, you know, the longer I'm at St. Leonard's House the more impressed I am with the social and political consciousness of the group of guys that are there and are related there in some way. And I think more and more, especially in the past couple of years, there's been a consciousness of the powerlessness of the inmate and of the man on the street who is apt to be picked up and accused. And I think one of the most exciting things that's going on with us is there's lots of conversation about this and some plans and some projects involving their change in status. We've got several men who have done time who are now on the staff who are developing roles with individual power that they never had before and they're beginning to talk, really, in terms of forming an ex-inmates collective bargaining unit for change. So, I am, frankly I'm somewhat encouraged. I think things are--while we've had going back to the county jail situation periodic crises and revelations of scandal--I think that, perhaps this time, maybe not this time, next time there will be some opportunities to effect some of the changes that are so clear and so obvious and so indicated as necessary.
Studs Terkel So there is this awareness. Now we come to awareness on the part of those on one side of the bars and now, Hans, we've come to, perhaps, the last thing, it must be this awareness on the part of this, the great majority on the other side of the bars.
Hans Mattick Oh, I would agree with Father Taylor that there is probably a greater awareness, but let's say from below. I think that the people on top are still unnecessarily blind and to their detriment. I think, perhaps, I could encapsulate the entire official attitude towards the jail by telling you a true story of election night--the night that Joe Lohman was elected Sheriff. I was in the room at the time when the election returns were such that it was now known that he had been elected and everybody was feeling elated in the room. And there was a former Sheriff of Cook County there, an old man who had been there and I heard him say to Joe Lohman, he said, "Let me give you one word of advice now that you have been elected Sheriff." And so naturally I perked up my ear and I wondered what would this old warhorse say as the entire fruit of his experience as a Sheriff in Cook County and this is what he said--and I quote. He said, "Never set foot in the jail. It can only dirty you up." Now there's a piece of advice for the man who is mainly responsible for the jail.
Studs Terkel I think that, perhaps that story, that word of advice by that superannuated over-age destroyers is what Bernard Shaw used to call them, you know. 'Never set foot in it, it might dirty you up.'
Studs Terkel 'It will ONLY dirty you up.' So there you have the double standard, there you have the wall. And thus we leave the audience, too, with a very simple question asking about the headlines and the editorials and the indignant citizens and the righteous clarion calls about what has been happening--the violence behind the wall of the Cook County Jail is re-evaluated. Look at it.
Studs Terkel And if you're really interested and of course a complete re-evaluation of our own lives, our own customs, our own morality quite obviously. Hans W. Mattick, now of the University of Chicago, formerly of the Cook County Jail. I don't mean to equate the two here, you understand.