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January 6, 2011

Why shouldn't imprisoned former Governor George Ryan get released to see his dying wife?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this AP article, headlined "Jailed ex-Illinois gov. asks to visit gravely ill wife." Here are the basics:

Family members of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan have gathered at the hospital bedside of his gravely ill wife while waiting for a federal appeals court to decide whether he should be allowed to join them.

Ryan's attorneys filed an emergency motion Wednesday asking that the 76-year-old former governor be let out of prison during daytime hours so he can be with his wife of 55 years, who they said was in intensive care suffering complications from chemotherapy.

One of Ryan's attorneys, former Gov. James Thompson, told The Associated Press that Lura Lynn Ryan's family was called to her side Wednesday morning. Family members did not address reporters who congregated outside Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee. "Doctors have told the family that they have to go hour by hour," Thompson said.

An emergency motion filed with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago says Ryan's wife went into septic shock, a complication of her treatment for what the motion describes as incurable cancer of the lungs, back, pelvis, ribs and liver. "Though neither radiation nor chemotherapy will affect a cure, Mrs. Ryan . . . has elected to receive both treatments in the hope that they will keep her alive until she can be with her husband to say goodbye," the motion says. "She has, at most, weeks to live."

The former governor has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence on convictions of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI. His attorneys' motion argues "he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community." Attorneys also appealed directly to federal prison authorities to release Ryan under a program allowing inmates temporary leave to visit gravely ill family members, Thompson said.

Thompson said Ryan remained in prison as of Wednesday night but that his attorneys were keeping in touch with prison authorities in hopes of winning an immediate release. U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said prison wardens decide whether to grant bedside visit requests, but that the agency cannot disclose whether a request is made or granted due to privacy and safety concerns....

Ryan was convicted in 2006 of steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was secretary of state and then governor for one term. He received vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes in exchange for truck driver's licenses.

For all non-violent offenders who pose no obvious risk of flight or to the community, I would endorse a general rule that they readily be permitted release for a short period to be with a dying spouse. Such a temporary release rule, especially if limited to critically ill spouses, seems essential to a truly humane criminal justice system.

January 6, 2011 at 10:54 AM | Permalink


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I agree with your last sentiment, but I fear we will carve out an exception for Governor Ryan and similarly situated white (collar and skin) prisoners, as usual.

Posted by: Justin | Jan 6, 2011 11:00:45 AM

Prof. Isn't it clear to you yet after all these years that we do not have, never will have, do not aspire to, and do not want to have a "truly humane" criminal justice system. As Bill and federalist say, just lock the bastards up. If they can't do the time, don't do the crime.

Posted by: anon1 | Jan 6, 2011 12:23:22 PM

I agree with Justin. Should such circumstances warrant a short furlough? Yes, absolutely, and I feel terrible for individuals in such a situation. But many, many times individuals who were not former-governors have been denied such requests, almost as a matter of course.

I can recall at least three individuals, in two different jurisdictions, who were denied similar requests.

In one, I was in law school, attempting to get a client of the firm who had been convicted of a non-violent offense (I don’t recall what it was, I just remember stressing this at the time) a furlough to visit his dying wife. Over a period of two weeks, at every turn and from every agency and court, the answer was "no" with the attitude of "why are you even asking?". I recall one of the firm's secretaries crying on the phone as chambers were trying to be reached. It was heart-breaking to learn of her death in the midst of our sustained, yet pointless, efforts.

I am aware of another individual who was incarcerated pre-trial (i.e. presumed innocent) on charges of fraud/counterfeiting (i.e. non-violent with no violent past) who was unable to timely obtain the resources for a bond that had been granted (i.e. determined to not be a flight risk) who was not allowed to visit his dying mother, despite his pleas. After her death, he was also not allowed to attend her funeral. [Question: Is there a reason to limit the rule to spouses and to not also include parents?]

As warranted as it may be, if Ryan's request is granted, it will smack of favoritism.

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 6, 2011 12:32:10 PM

I'm always suspicious of these requests. How do we know she will die? Cult leader Yahweh Bin Yahweh was released on grounds that he would soon be dead and he lived another 11 years. The Lockerbie bomber was released in August '09 on the grounds that he'd be dead in 90 days, and he's still alive and well in Libya.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jan 6, 2011 4:14:00 PM

He is a felon. He should remain in prison.

That is punishment.

Either that, or there should be a blanket exception for family sickness. But where to draw the line? If it is between those convicted of "violent" and "non-violent" crimes, then criminals like Al Capone would be eligible.

Posted by: allan | Jan 6, 2011 5:04:50 PM

Absolutely not. George Ryan is a criminal who, while governor, cruelly played with the feelings of the families of those murdered by death row inmates. He should get no mercy whatsoever.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 6, 2011 9:07:18 PM

As a Canadian journalist and observer of U.S. news stories, I am frankly appalled by the blindsiding of popular opinion, with respect to Gov. George Ryan's conviction, imprisonment, and now the refusal of his request to get leave from jail to be at the side of his dying wife after 50 years of marriage. Frankly, I would defy any elected public official in the State of Illinois to remain free of accusation of corruption charges, in light of the fact that corruption is endemic at every level of government. There is no way of knowing, whether as Governor or as Secretary of State, what Gov. Ryan did or did not do, countenanced or did not countenance, covered-up or did not cover up. To hold him personally responsible for dispensing campaign funds is ridiculous. It is so obvious that the prosecution forced Fawell, his former assistant, to turn State's witness - using illegal threats and coercion. America has turned into a Banana Republic, where the powers behind the scenes can crucify anyone. While people spout that the 'rule of law' should be maintained, they hide from the fact that the President of the United States is not only hiding his legal birth certificate, but probably used an Indonesian passport as a student travelling the world for the CIA. Meanwhile the TSA, legally empowered at the highest levels, submits children to invasive sexual gropings. America burned out the Branch Davidians for less.

Posted by: Cheryl | Jan 7, 2011 9:20:14 AM

Some of you people have no idea what prison is like...Your just exactly what SC says you are..May you get to have your chance in the CrossBar Hotel....Then I want to hear you mouth off...

Posted by: Abe | Jan 7, 2011 10:05:03 AM

Abe --

How does it come to pass that you know what prison is like?

Let me guess. You were sent there by the fascist thugs who concocted evidence of your "crime." Which was what, exactly?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 7, 2011 1:03:47 PM


Please stick to journalism, which seems more suited to your fanciful view of the world.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Jan 7, 2011 2:33:48 PM

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