This is the first scholarly Article to investigate the inner workings of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (“TIRC”). The TIRC was established by statute in 2009 to provide legal redress for victims of police torture. Prisoners who claim that their convictions were based on confessions coerced by police torture can utilize the procedures available at the TIRC to obtain judicial review of their cases. For those who have exhausted all appeals and post-conviction remedies, the TIRC represents the tantalizing promise of justice long denied. To be eligible for relief, however, the claimant must first meet the TIRC’s strict four-element test for credibility. This Article argues that through its over-reliance on these credibility standards, the TIRC effectively inscribes and reproduces a dominant narrative of police torture, one that promotes a “bad apples” myth and ignores the contributing factors of broader-scale forces such as racism and inadequate police accountability mechanisms. By accepting certain claims of torture as credible and rejecting others, the TIRC engages in the construction of a socio-legal truth about Chicago’s police torture crisis.
This Article explores the truth-making function of the TIRC, examining its adjudicatory processes under the framework of what Andrew Woolford and R.S. Ratner call “the informal-formal justice complex.” The TIRC is an informal justice practice in that it provides a forum for the adjudication of police torture claims in a space created outside the formal legal system. In reality, however, the TIRC straddles the line between formal and informal justice systems, and this awkward position is the source of ongoing tensions. Like other informal justice practices, the TIRC relies on the State to provide the authority to execute its mission; this dependent relationship generates results that tend to ultimately reinforce State power. Fortunately, social movements maintaining a position outside of the complex have cultivated a number of counterpublics as alternate discursive spaces used to challenge State power. The Article ends with a consideration of two alternative forums for justice—the Survivor’s Roundtable and the People’s Hearings on Police Crimes.