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Former Gov. Ryan returns home to finish sentence under house arrest

By Jason Meisner , Annie Sweeney and Angie Leventis Lourgos, Chicago Tribune reporters10:32 p.m. CST, January 30, 2013

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was let out of a federal prison in Indiana in the dead of night early Wednesday and checked briefly into a Chicago halfway house before he was released — in a surprise decision — to his home to finish out his 61/2-year sentence on home confinement.

The quick turn of events allowed Ryan, who turns 79 next month, to elude a horde of media gathered at the prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and then slip from the halfway house on the Near West Side undetected several hours later.

By 10:30 a.m., Ryan had an emotional reunion with 17 of his children and grandchildren at his longtime Kankakee home, according to his attorney, former Gov. Jim Thompson. Later in the day, Ryan’s daughter, Jeanette, smiled as she left through a rear entrance. “We are very happy he’s home,” she said.

Home confinement for Ryan means he won’t have to face weeks or months at the Salvation Army halfway house where many of the state’s other disgraced politicians have had to take up residence.

The move struck some as one more backroom deal cut by a longtime political insider, but Thompson and U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials denied that Ryan received special treatment.

Thompson said he was surprised by the accommodation and that he didn’t know it was being planned for Ryan until Wednesday morning.

“It’s not something I asked for, it’s not something he (Ryan) asked for, so it is in no way preferential treatment,” Thompson said.

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman in Washington declined to say how many inmates like Ryan go directly to home confinement in the final months of their sentences, but the agency’s website made it clear that the ordinary route would be to go first to a halfway house.

The Bureau of Prisons won’t discuss specific inmates, but spokesman Chris Burke said officials decide each inmate’s placement on an individual basis after assessing everything from financial stability and family ties to any emotional or medical issues such as drug or alcohol addiction.

As for the overnight departure, Burke said prisons officials consider the disruption to the prison as well as inmate safety.

“These issues are considered with any inmate — that he get safely from point A to point B,” Burke said.

At least one other well-known defendant, convicted insurance broker Michael Segal, 69, was allowed last year to skip the halfway house.

Court records in Segal’s case revealed that officials at the prison in Oxford, Wis., where he was held, recommended he be released directly to home confinement because he “has few re-entry needs.”

Several veteran attorneys who spoke to the Tribune on Wednesday said that at his age, Ryan doesn’t need help transitioning back to life on the outside either. Among the classes offered at the halfway house are how to write a check and what to wear on a job interview.

“For someone like George Ryan, who’s (almost) 79 years old, he’s not a person who needs to find a job or needs help transitioning,” attorney Marc Martin said. “He’s essentially retired.”

The attorneys also said the Salvation Army’s halfway house has limited resources and that inmates of Ryan’s age and stable background make good candidates for home release to alleviate crowding there.

“I do not know the Bureau of Prisons to ever make deals with anyone, I don’t care who they are or who their lawyer is,” said attorney Jeffrey Steinback.

Yet that doesn’t always explain why other older high-profile inmates — including William Hanhardt, a former Chicago police chief of detectives in his 80s — recently had to serve time at the halfway house. However, former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, 75, who also spent time in the halfway house, was mandated to serve time there in a judge’s sentencing order.

While Ryan will awaken Thursday at his Kankakee home, he clearly will be under more restrictions than when he left for prison more than five years ago.

He can’t leave without permission. He can’t enjoy a drink. He will be subject to overnight calls from prison officials. He will have to submit to random tests for drugs and alcohol. Though he is out of prison, Ryan is still a federal inmate.

“They will call him up at 2 a.m. and say, ‘What’s your U.S. Marshal number?'” said Patrick Boyce, who spent time in federal prison for securities fraud and now runs a consulting business that teaches prisoners about the penitentiary system. “Ryan will repeat it, they will say thank you, and hang up.”

He is confined to his home except for work — if he decides to get a job — or other approved movements, including going to church and medical visits. Burke said “certain social functions” can be approved.

Between now and the end of his sentence in early July, Ryan cannot visit others in their homes, and if he goes to a public place, he has to bring a receipt or other written proof of where he was, Thompson said.

“It’s like being in the halfway house,” Thompson said.

Ryan is home for the first time since wife Lura Lynn died, and his oldest grandson will be staying with him, Thompson said.

“I imagine it’s very hard,” Thompson said. “Just as I imagine it’s been very hard ever since she died and it’s been very hard ever since he left her (for prison). At least he’s got closure now with his family.”

Ryan’s long career in public life came to a stunning crash with his 2006 conviction for fraud, racketeering and other charges for steering millions of dollars in state business to lobbyists and friends in return for vacations, gifts and other benefits to him and his family. He is one of four former Illinois governors convicted of federal crimes over the past four decades.

Once a small-town pharmacist, Ryan played politics as a consummate insider, a proponent of backroom deal-making and influence peddling as an accepted part of the political culture. The Kankakee native rose from speaker of the Illinois House to win statewide election as lieutenant governor, secretary of state and one term as governor.

As governor, he wanted to be known as a deal-maker and builder, the father of a multibillion-dollar public works program known as Illinois First. Instead he spent the entirety of his single term on the defensive, fending off a spreading federal probe known as Operation Safe Road.

Despite his legal problems, Ryan became a hero to some for abandoning Republican orthodoxy and taking a stand as governor against Illinois’ death penalty, ultimately declaring a moratorium on executions and commuting the sentences of all death row inmates in the final days of his term. Death penalty advocates still trumpet him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The long day Wednesday started in a rainstorm in Terre Haute when Ryan left prison at about 1 a.m. and was driven to Thompson’s Chicago home, where he arrived around 4:30 a.m. in sweats and changed into a gray sports coat, white shirt and maroon tie.

A little over two hours later, Ryan, looking thinner but healthy, arrived at the halfway house at Ashland Avenue and Monroe Street. He was surrounded by TV cameras — and reporters firing questions — as he walked toward the four-story red brick building in the pre-dawn darkness.

Accompanied by his son, George Ryan Jr., and Thompson, Ryan smiled tightly but refused to answer questions from reporters.

“Guys, he can’t talk,” Thompson barked. “Bureau of Prisons policy. Come on, give him a break!”

Tribune reporters Bob Secter and Peter Nickeas contributed.


Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Scathing report on treatment of inmates: Legislator says feds could take over Tutwiler: Cam Ward says ‘abuses are well documented’

Cam Ward says ‘abuses are well documented’

Written by
Kala Kachmar

A state legislator openly expressed concern that there could be a federal takeover of Alabama’s prison system if corrections are not made at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

The concern was expressed at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Prison Committee held to discuss a U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections (NIC) report that found a multitude of problems at the prison, including a failure to report sexual abuse of inmates. The report was based on a three-day on-site assessment of cross-gender supervision at Tutwiler.

Alabama Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas requested the assessment months after the Montgomery-based nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative released a report that found Alabama Department of Corrections employees had illegal sexual contact with dozens of women at the Wetumpka facility. The group also said official responses to reports of abuse created an atmosphere of intimidation that discouraged future complaints.

Thomas began implementing new policies to take corrective action in December, about a month after the report, which found a culture of “intimidation and undue harshness” at the prison, was released. Since then, Thomas and his staff have developed an official action plan that directly addresses some of the issues in both reports.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said it’s important legislators show “political will” to start fixing some of the problems at Tutwiler and in other prisons in the state. He said the prison system is the most underfunded, overcrowded in the country.

Ward said the system is in jeopardy of being taken over by the federal government, and taking steps to make changes will help “fend off” future litigation.

“I think we’re going to make sure we hold the officials in the Department of Corrections accountable,” Ward said. “We have a definite issue at Tutwiler. The abuses are well documented.”

He said although there is an action plan, the Legislature has to provide oversight to make sure it’s carried out.

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, said after reviewing the 30 issues summarized at the end of the NIC report, only seven had to do with budget constraints. He said the rest “dealt with management, people and responsibility,” and that staff should have been responsible for things such as making sure the hotlines used to report staff misconduct or sexual assault were working.

Farley asked Thomas to consider reopening investigations of staff members at the facility that were “swept under the rug.”

Thomas said he wasn’t opposed to the idea.

State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said part of the problem is that for decades in Alabama, political leaders have used calls for stricter punishment of criminals to get elected.

“Until we as a legislature deal with the reality of what’s happening, nothing is going to change,” she said.

Figures also said an NIC report should be done on all 28 of the state’s prison facilities, and that there are sexual assaults and inmate mistreatment in male prisons too. The reports can help political leaders and corrections staff decide the best way to make changes.

“We want to be proactive instead of reactive,” Ward said. “We don’t want to get into another situation like Tutwiler that bubbles over.”

Scathing report on treatment of inmates: Legislator says feds could take over Tutwiler: Cam Ward says ‘abuses are well documented’

Follow up Report – Legislative panel grills Alabama prison commissioner about sexual misconduct at Tutwiler

By Mike Cason | 

 January 29, 2013 at 6:26 PM

Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas.jpg

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas speaks at Tutwiler Prison in Montgomery, Alabama on Jan. 25, 2013. (Mike Cason/

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — A legislative panel questioned Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas today for more than an hour about a report prompted by complaints of sexual misconduct by male officers at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

Thomas told the Joint Legislative Prison Committee he was committed to fixing problems cited in the report and went over an action plan that he first released on Friday, when he also released the reportwritten by a team of consultants from the National Institute of Corrections, which visited Tutwiler for three days in September.

Thomas asked an NIC team to visit Tutwiler last year after the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group that represents prisoners and indigent defendants,issued a report in May 2012 saying that it received “dozens of complaints of sexual misconduct involving male staff and women prisoners between 2004 and 2011.”

Much of today’s discussion veered into general issues on the prison system, including overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing and sentencing laws.

Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said problems such as those at Tutwiler can’t be fixed without more money to staff prisons and other changes.

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, vice chairman of the Joint Legislative Prison Committee, said problems like those reported at Tutwiler, such as sexual misconduct by male officers and failure to properly investigate complaints, are issues of character and supervision and can’t be blamed on funding or understaffing.

Farley asked Thomas for assurances that employees who were responsible would be held accountable.

Some former Tutwiler inmates attended today’s meeting.

Amanda Moore, 25, who lives in Marshall County, said she was at Tutwiler from 2009 to 2012 on a manslaughter conviction.

“I believe Commissioner Thomas is extremely uninformed,” Moore said. “I believe he is trying his best on what knowledge he does have. But as far as the propositions that he’s made, I believe that he is extremely uninformed as to what really takes place. He has a guideline for proper procedures that are supposed to happen in prison, and it just does not work that way.”

Moore said male officers sought to trade for sexual favors from inmates.

“They will try to come on to you sexually and it’s like a bartering and trading business,” Moore said. “ ‘I will give you food, I will give you money, if you give me sex. I will not write you up if you give me sex.’ ”

She said she reported a male officer for advances on her.

“They closed the case before it even got started. They let it lie dormant for like two years,” Moore said.

 Legislative panel grills Alabama prison commissioner about sexual misconduct at Tutwiler

Alabama lawmakers to hold meeting on sexual abuse at Tutwiler Prison @ 1p.m. in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Alabama’s Joint Legislative Prison Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss a report released last week about sexual misconduct against female inmates by staff at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, the vice chairman of the committee who spent 37 years in law enforcement, called the report, written by a team of consultants from the National Institute of Corrections after a three-day visit to the prison in September, “scathing.”

“I want to know what the administrators of the prison facility have been doing if we have to bring in somebody from the federal level to talk to our people to tell us about our problems,” Farley said. “Commissioner (Kim) Thomas and his associate commissioners have got to roll up their sleeves.”

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of the Prison Committee, called the report a “black eye” for the state. Ward said Thomas would be at Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions.

Thomas released a plan to address problems found in the NIC report, which said that women and staff described Tutwiler as “a repressive and intimidating environment,” and that inmates reported fear of retaliation if they resisted sexual advances by the prison’s staff.

“Let me be blunt, to the extent that that exists in reality, that is not acceptable, and we’re going to do everything in our power to eliminate those from occurring,” Thomas said.

In June 2012, Thomas asked the NIC to visit Tutwiler and make recommendations on improving the supervision of female inmates by male prison employees. Thomas made that request after a May 2012 report by the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents inmates, that found inmates were being raped, assaulted and harassed by male prison employees.

The NIC report appeared to confirm some of the EJI’s findings, including that male guards watched female inmates shower and go to the bathroom. Thomas said he knew of one pregnancy of a female inmate that was a result of “custodial rape.”

Thomas said the department has already changed some policies. For example, inmates who complain about sexual misconduct by staff are no longer placed in segregation, one of the findings listed in the EJI report.

“Although the initial purpose of that policy was to protect the offender from harm, it was producing an undesirable effect, discouraging offenders from coming forward with complaints,” Thomas said.

Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the EJI, said the action plan released by Thomas was a start, but that it would take time to address all the problems at Tutwiler and throughout the prison system.

“You can’t excuse or ignore violence, by staff, directed at prisoners. You can’t justify it.” Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative.

“You can’t excuse or ignore violence, by staff, directed at prisoners,” Stevenson said. “You can’t justify it. You can’t excuse it. You have to address it.”

The beating death of an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility in 2010 has resulted in criminal charges and firings or resignations of six officers.

State officials say Tutwiler and other state prisons are filled beyond their designed capacity and there are not enough officers.

Farley said that does not excuse sexual misconduct by employees.

“There’s nothing that you could convince me is an excuse for employees being involved with sexual activity with those that are incarcerated that we are given the duty to protect,” Farley said. “Whether we agree with what they were convicted of or not, that’s not up to us. That’s up to the judges and the court system. It’s our job in the prison system to protect these people.”

Ward said he had sent the NIC report to other members of the Legislature. He said he was glad to see Thomas is taking steps to address problems.

“I’m glad to see he’s being proactive,” Ward said. “But let’s face it, he’s being proactive in what was a very, very bad situation.”

Tuesday’s meeting, which is open to the public, is at 1 p.m. at the Alabama State House, 11 South Union Street.

Alabama lawmakers to hold meeting on sexual abuse at Tutwiler Prison

Alabama Dept of Corrections plan addresses Tutwiler abuses

State Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas on Friday released an action plan for Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women to take “aggressive steps” to address allegations of rape at the facility.

The release of the plan follows a three-day visit by the National Institute of Corrections in September to review the Wetumpka facility.

Thomas said he invited the NIC to tour the facility after the nonprofit group Equal Justice Initiative released a report that found widespread rapes of inmates by Tutwiler employees.

The four-person NIC team produced a 38-page report on the prison, and Thomas conceded Friday that the agency found an “oppressive, intimidating atmosphere” at the facility.

The NIC team met with staff members after its visit, and Thomas said changes began almost immediately.

“The very next day we began to implement changes while we awaited the final report,” Thomas said.

EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson said it was a good sign that Thomas invited the NIC on his own accord but added that a long-term solution is going to be needed to fix the state’s prisons.

“I think this report really wakes people up,” Stevenson said.

He added the report points to issues that are systemwide, including a lack of funding and prison overcrowding.

Stevenson and Thomas both said Tutwiler is at least 90 percent over capacity. Thomas said it also is only 60 percent staffed.

Thomas would not go into details Friday about how many ADOC employees had been fired or prosecuted in connection with sexual assaults at Tutwiler. He said there had been one pregnancy as the result of a rape of an inmate by a correctional employee.

Among the problems found in the report were a lack of security cameras and a lack of female employees.

In his action plan, Thomas vows to pursue at least $3.2 million to provide cameras and monitoring equipment at Tutwiler.

The plan calls for the recruitment and hiring of female correctional officers to work at Tutwiler and directing any new trainees with ADOC from the Montgomery area to be assigned to either Tutwiler or the Montgomery Women’s Facility.

Other directives in the action plan include more training in the Prison Rape Elimination Act and changes to improve conditions in general at the prison.

Corrections plan addresses Tutwiler abuses

Equal Justice Initiative Investigation Into Sexual Violence at Tutwiler Prison for Women