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Ryan’s lightning-fast release from halfway house not out of line, experts say

Updated: March 2, 2013 11:45AM



No sooner than he’d arrived at a West Side halfway house Wednesday morning, inmate 16627-424 was on his way home.

While other ill or elderly prisoners have endured months in a halfway house at the end of their sentences, George Ryan was by late Wednesday morning free to putter around his kitchen, dine with his family or take a nap in his favorite comfy chair.

In a state where voters have learned to suspect a political fix, the disgraced former governor’s short stay — just a few hours following his release from federal prison — attracted plenty of skeptically raised eyebrows.

But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons insists its decision to immediately release Ryan into home confinement at his Kankakee house is “not uncommon” for an elderly inmate.

And attorneys who specialize in federal sentencing law agree he likely got no special treatment.

“The Bureau is typically trying to maximize the bed space at halfway houses for people who need the services offered there,” said Todd Bussert, one of the nation’s top sentencing experts.

Elderly, financially secure prisoners such as Ryan have no use for the resume-polishing skills and help re-integrating into society offered at the facility, Bussert said.

Under the circumstances, sentencing consultant John Webster added, “it makes no sense for the Bureau to pay for the expense of his detention at this point.”

Despite that, some elderly inmates, such as William Hanhardt — the Chicago chief of detectives who was convicted of leading a crew of mob-connected jewel thieves — spend months in a halfway house.

Hanhardt, like Ryan, had serious health problems, but was considered a higher risk because of his links to organized crime. In 2011, at the age of 82, he was held on the West Side for about four months.

His attorney, Jeffrey Steinback, said “timing and the availability of beds” mostly determine how long inmates stay in a halfway house, noting that the Bureau of Prisons is “underfunded and overcrowded.”

While “it isn’t an everyday occurrence” for a prisoner to be released so quickly, Steinback said, “it’s not uncommon, either.”

He said that if the bureau “had been inclined to release [Ryan] but didn’t because it was afraid of how it would look, that really would have been unfair.”

Besides, he added, “Though home confinement is preferable to a halfway house, he’ll still be bound by the same restrictions he’d face at the halfway house while he completes his sentence.”

So no celebratory cocktails, just yet.



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