Ex-Chief Justice Burger Defends Prison Furloughs

Associated Press

Former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger defended prison furloughs Tuesday, contending that the issue had become “very much garbled” during the presidential campaign.

“Unfortunately, the issue of corrections is never likely to become adequately treated in any political campaign,” the former chief justice, who now is chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, said in a written statement released to the Associated Press.

Burger’s statement was issued Tuesday afternoon, just hours before voting polls closed on the East Coast.

In an interview later, he insisted that the timing was not related to the end of the presidential campaign between Republican George Bush and Democrat Michael S. Dukakis.


“I don’t want to get into anything relating to the campaign itself,” said Burger, who was appointed chief justice in 1969 by then-President Richard M. Nixon and retired in 1986 to head the bicentennial commission.

Doesn’t Assess Blame

Burger’s statement said: “In the recent campaign the issue of what the media vaguely called ‘prison furloughs’ was very much garbled; I leave it to persons more expert than I to decide whether it was garbled by the candidates or by the media.

“Of course, what we call the system of ‘prison furloughs’ is useful and should be continued,” Burger wrote. “The issue raised in the campaign was not whether furloughs are basically a good idea and a useful tool in the field of corrections but whether it was administered properly.”


In the interview, Burger said: “There really wasn’t any debate on corrections here (during the campaign); there was the single episode that was referred to.”

Burger refused to say whether he believed Bush should have made a major campaign issue of Massachusetts’ prison furlough program and the escape of furloughed inmate Willie Horton, who later raped a woman and beat up her fiance.

‘Public Confusion’

However, the former chief justice said: “Before this campaign ever started, there was some public confusion about the idea of furloughs, and now there may be more.

“I don’t think either of these men (Bush or Dukakis) would disagree” that prison furlough programs are a good idea, he said.