Blago might not go to minimum security prison

November 23, 2011 (CHICAGO)

What Tony Rezko got Tuesday represents the first time in memory that a public corruption defendant in Chicago has been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison -- that's with the exception of several Greylord judges some years ago who got more time.

Ten is important because the Bureau of Prisons uses that length of sentence to determine -- in part -- where an inmate does his time. That is certainly something the ex governor is thinking about as he prepares for sentencing.

"You've got to get your affairs in order. Get power of attorney. You have to prepare yourself and your family mentally and also financially for the time you're going to be gone," said former George Ryan chief of staff Scott Fawell

Fawell was gone for 54 months. Most of that time was spent in a federal prison camp.

Like Fawell, most of those convicted of public corruption in Chicago have served their time in less secure prison camps, where there are no exterior fences. But the federal Bureau of Prisons, as a matter of policy, does not place a new inmate in a prison camp if his sentence is 10 years or more. There are exceptions, but that is the general rule.

So, if the ex governor is sentenced to more than 10 years, he may have to serve at least a portion of his time in a more restrictive setting like a medium security federal prison.

In either case, it's prison.

"It is a very strict and rigid schedule, and there are conditions that'll be placed on his freedom of movement that none of us have experienced, and that he certainly as governor of the state could not have imagined," said former federal prosecutor Gil Sofer.

The judge makes the decision on length of sentence, but the Bureau of Prisons decides where it is served.

New inmates are placed in part on a score they are given through a program called SENTRY. It is a point system that measures the severity of the offense, the inmate's age, education level, whether there is any criminal history, whether there was a voluntary surrender, and with other factors, there is a security point total which figures into where an inmate is first sent.

"It's not fun. People think that there's some kind of clubhouse in these federal institutions. It's not that way," said former federal prosecutor Phil Turner. "It's a difficult time and you deal with some very difficult people."

The federal prison camps have regimented routines, but the inmates typically don't have violent histories, and their bunks are in more of a dorm setting without bars inside and fencing outside.

Minimum and medium security prisons are more restrictive.

The Bureau of Prisons has a lot of factors it considers when placing an inmate, particularly someone like a former governor who may have some security considerations, but will get no special treatment.

The bureau tries to place inmates within 500 mile radius of their home.

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