Pamela Rodriguez Op-Ed in Daily Herald: Is Illinois Ready for Criminal Justice Reform?

In a guest opinion-editorial for the Daily Herald, TASC President Pamela Rodriguez discusses the timely and promising opportunities for criminal justice reform in Illinois.

The General Assembly’s new Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee, chaired by State Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Riverside) and State Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin), recognizes the need to reduce incarceration of non-violent offenders and those who struggle with mental illness and addiction, asserts Rodriguez. “We can begin to make significant reforms that allow people to get treatment for behavioral health issues as soon as or even before they come in contact with the criminal justice system,” she writes.

Read Rodriguez’s op-ed, including the unique opportunities for reform presented by Medicaid expansion.

New Illinois Law Automatically Expunges Records of Juvenile Arrests That Don’t Lead to Convictions

(Chicago) – In early June, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to automatically clear arrest records for less serious, non-violent juvenile cases that do not lead to convictions, providing a “clean slate” to young people and avoiding a permanent, professional handicap weighing on their future.

“Many young residents are arrested each year for minor offenses that have the potential to negatively affect their future,” Quinn said upon signing the bill. “These juveniles are often unaware that the record of their arrest can follow them into adulthood.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 978, sponsored by State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and State Representative Art Turner (D-Chicago), automatically clears juvenile arrest records for youth who have since turned 18 years old and have not incurred other subsequent arrests or juvenile delinquency charges in the past six months. Serious felony offenses and sex offenses are ineligible for automatic expungement.

“The substance of juvenile expungement was already on the books, but required lengthy, expensive, and unnecessary legal red tape to achieve,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “The new law eliminates the burden of going through the time-consuming process of court to expunge his or her arrest record for minor offenses that were not proven.”

Rodriguez added that the new law eliminates a major obstacle on a youth’s path to adulthood.

Raoul hailed Quinn for his “swift action.”

“I’d like to thank the Governor for his swift action in bringing about this forward-thinking change in law,” said Raoul, “which is a step towards ensuring our young adults who are doing the right thing in pursuing opportunities to advance themselves are not handicapped with a criminal record for an offense that was never pursued by prosecutors.”

The new law is effective January 1, 2015.

Highlights from Celebrations of Recovery Month 2014 in Illinois

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of National Recovery Month, communities and organizations across Illinois have hosted various events to celebrate recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. Over the past two Saturdays, TASC was engaged in events in Chicago, Rockford, and University Park.

Pictured left to right, back row: Derrick Watson, Rev. Tommie Johnson Middle row: Mike Seeler, Alicia Fiestamel, Debra Hammer, Miki Hendricks, Angela Daniels Front row:  Peter Palanca; Benneth Lee

TASC staff at the September 20 Walk for Recovery at Governors State University in University Park, Illinois.  From left to right, back row: Derrick Watson, Rev. Tommie Johnson.  Middle row: Michael Seeler, Alicia Feistamel, Debra Hammer, Micki Hendricks, Angela Daniels.  Front row: Peter Palanca; Benneth Lee.

On September 20, the Governors State University (GSU) Addiction Studies Alumni Club hosted its third annual Walk for Recovery in University Park, drawing more than 250 people. Led by TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca as Master of Ceremonies, the event honored individuals in recovery as well as treatment providers dedicated to helping those seeking recovery. In the spirit of this year’s Recovery Month theme — Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out! — event speakers also encouraged citizens to continue to speak up on behalf of those in need of services.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 23 million people over the age of 12 needed treatment for a substance use problem in 2009. Of these, fewer than three million received it at a specialty facility, making the role of organizations like TASC vital for many.

“We know that investing in recovery makes sense,” said Palanca. “When people with alcohol and drug problems get the help and support that they need, we see positive results.”

Palanca, who has served as Master of Ceremonies at the previous GSU Recovery Walks, added that the importance of recovery should be recognized year-round.

“Let’s not stop celebrating recovery as September comes to a close,” said Palanca. “Recovering people and their families are engaging in recovery each and every day with our continued support, guidance, and service.”

People in recovery, family members, community leaders, service providers, and recovery advocates celebrated at the sixth annual Recovery Rally on the Rock, held September 20 in Rockford.

People in recovery, family members, community leaders, service providers, and recovery advocates celebrated at the sixth annual Recovery Rally on the Rock, held September 20 in Rockford.

Also on September 20, the sixth annual Recovery Rally on the Rock took place on the banks of the Rock River. With inspirational speakers, entertainment, prizes, and refreshments, the event celebrates recovery and raises awareness of local resources to prevent and treat substance use and mental health conditions.

The Reverend Tommie Johnson, recovery support services coordinator for TASC, led the annual Winner’s Circle “Outside the Walls” event, which took place Saturday, September 13 in Chicago’s Douglas Park. “Outside the Walls” is a celebration of hope and healing in the spirit of recovery, promoting reconnected families broken by incarceration. The event offered a spiritual atmosphere emphasizing the importance of faith-based consciousness in productive reentry, and featured local gospel artists, food, family activities, and ongoing encouragement for health and wellness.

The keynote inspirational speaker at the September 13 “Outside the Walls” event was Reverend E.F. Ledbetter III, who is the pastor of the historic Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in the South Side of Chicago.

The keynote inspirational speaker at the September 13 “Outside the Walls” event was Reverend E.F. Ledbetter III, who is the pastor of the historic Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in the South Side of Chicago.

“For those engaged in the struggle to get their lives back on track, with all the obstacles they must overcome, it is good to have a moment that they are celebrated and not just tolerated,” said Johnson. “Everyone, no matter who they are, can use some encouragement from time to time.”

National Recovery Month spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective, and that people can and do recover. TASC is a National Recovery Month planning partner.

IL State Sen. Mattie Hunter, Walgreens’ Steve Pemberton to Receive TASC 2014 Leadership Awards

State Senator Mattie Hunter, TASC 2014 Justice Leadership Award Honoree

State Senator Mattie Hunter, TASC 2014 Justice Leadership Award Honoree

(Chicago) – Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3) and author and Walgreens executive Steve Pemberton will receive TASC’s 2014 Leadership Awards at the agency’s annual luncheon on December 10. 

“By their leadership and examples, Senator Hunter and Mr. Pemberton show us what public service looks like,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “They are powerful advocates for children and families, and we are honored to present them with our 2014 leadership awards.”

Senator Hunter, who will receive TASC’s Justice Leadership Award, is a consistent champion for addiction treatment and fair criminal justice policies. As a State Senator since 2003, she has led efforts to assure funding for addiction treatment, especially within challenging fiscal environments. She also chaired the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission and led its investigation of drug policies that have resulted in the over-representation of minorities in Illinois’ courts and prisons.

Most recently, Senator Hunter secured successful passage in the General Assembly of legislation designed to expand the use of criminal justice diversion programs that connect individuals to community-based services. This bill is a step forward in enacting “No Entry” policies to reverse the flood of people with non-violent offenses entering the justice system.

“We are grateful to Senator Hunter for her leadership in confronting tough challenges,” said Rodriguez. “Whether securing funding for human services or advocating for policies that apply justice more fairly, Senator Hunter has been a trusted friend to the families and communities we seek to serve.”

Steve Pemberton, TASC 2014 Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree

Steve Pemberton, TASC 2014 Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree

TASC will present its 2104 Public Voice Leadership Award award to Steve Pemberton, chief diversity officer and divisional vice president for Walgreens. Pemberton spent much of his childhood as a ward of the state of Massachusetts. His memoir, A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home (2012) describes his difficult path through foster care and determined search for family.

Pemberton’s story underscores the importance of connected and accountable systems of care, the value in programs and services that protect and support children, and the essential inclusion of opportunities to intervene with parents struggling with substance use disorders or mental illness.

“Mr. Pemberton’s painful childhood journey is one that too many children experience,” said Rodriguez, “and we share in his deep commitment to continually improve the services and systems that affect the lives of vulnerable children.

“There is great hope in his story as well,” she added. “We can also help people come to healing as adults. That is why we do what we do.”

Each year, TASC recognizes outstanding leaders who have demonstrated innovation and courage in addressing some of society’s most pervasive challenges. The agency’s 2014 luncheon will take place Wednesday, December 10 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at The Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Find out more about the luncheon and sponsorship opportunities and order tickets online. Please call (312) 573-8201 for additional information.

September is National Recovery Month; Join Celebrations Near You


(Chicago) — This year marks the 25th anniversary of National Recovery Month, which promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery from mental and substance use disorders. TASC and partners across Illinois are engaged in numerous activities that are open to the public.

Find an event near you and join in the celebrations.

Some of the 2014 events Illinois include:  (Click on links for event locations and other details.)

Sat. Sept. 13, 11 AM – 4 PM, Chicago. Outside the Walls.

  • Sponsored by the Winners’ Circle, this event offers a spiritual atmosphere to promote the reconnection of families once broken due to incarceration. The event is a full day featuring local gospel artists, food, and family-oriented fun and activities, all in supporting and sustaining efforts to live in health and wellness in the community.

Sat. Sept. 20, 8 AM – noon, University Park. Governors State University’s Addiction Studies Alumni Club Walk for Recovery.

  • Led by TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca as Master of Ceremonies, the annual Walk for Recovery honors individuals recovering and seeking recovery and celebrates the treatment providers committed to helping them. There will be music, entertainment, a resource fair, door prizes, and refreshments. See news release.

Sat. Sept. 20, 11 AM – 4 PM, Rockford. 6th Annual Recovery Rally on the Rock.

  • Join TASC colleagues and community partners in a celebration of fellowship and recovery, featuring speakers, music, desserts, and giveaways.

This year’s Recovery Month theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out,” encourages people to openly speak up about recovery from mental and substance use disorders. Recovery Month spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective, and that people can and do recover. TASC is a National Recovery Month planning partner.

Anthony Harden, TASC Youth Services Administrator, Receives IADDA Award for Distinguished Service

Anthony Harden, recipient of IADDA’s 2014 C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award, is congratulated by his wife, Gloria, and TASC team members. Left to right: Alisa Montgomery-Webb, Gloria Harden, Anthony Harden, Maxie Knighten, Alicia Kusiak, and Janelle Prueter.

Anthony Harden, recipient of IADDA’s 2014 Dr. C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award, with (left to right): Alisa Montgomery-Webb, TASC Youth Reentry Services Administrator; Gloria Harden; Maxie Knighten, TASC Juvenile Justice Services Team Leader; Alicia Kusiak, TASC Director of Cook County Services; and Janelle Prueter, TASC Vice President of Operations.

(Chicago) – Recognized for his tireless advocacy on behalf of youth and families in need of health services, TASC Youth Services Administrator Anthony Harden was honored September 4 by the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA).

Harden received the 2014 Dr. C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award at the association’s annual conference in Lisle. IADDA presents the award each year in memory of Dr. Bakeman, a pioneer in the field of addiction prevention and treatment who envisioned a society where all people have equal access to these essential health services.

“Just to be nominated for the Dr. C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award is an honor,” said Harden, “but to be selected is humbling and overwhelming.”

Paying tribute to the award’s namesake, he said, “Dr. Bakeman’s vision and legacy are consistent with our mission at TASC, as well as with our partners here at IADDA – to educate the public that substance abuse is a health issue.”

Harden offered that Dr. Bakeman’s commitment to equal access to substance use treatment is closer to being realized, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. For example, TASC provides application assistance for individuals detained at the Cook County Jail, which “not only for the first time gives many access to health insurance for their general well-being, but also access to treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues,” said Harden. “This is how we honor the leadership and legacy of Dr. Bakeman – by advocating, not just treatment for those who could afford it, but also treatment for everyone in need.”

He added that he would be remiss not to mention Dr. Bakeman’s insistence in advocating for all cultures, in particular for people of color.

“Years ago I heard Vince speak in Springfield at the Black Caucus convention,” recalled Harden. “He stated that one of the best models to address substance abuse is the 12-step program – but that it was designed for white, middle class, employed men. He advocated for communities of color to develop their own culturally-specific approaches and provide treatment and services to their own within their own communities. In other words, we need to make 12 steps inclusive; we need to make them fit who we’re serving – the unemployed, females, the homeless, the uninsured and the disfranchised. I think Dr. Bakeman would be proud of how far we have come today. But the work is not finished and I have no doubt my colleagues will not rest until it is so.”

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez presented the award to Harden, honoring his dedicated service and compassion for clients and staff.

“We are so proud to recognize your work, Anthony,” said Rodriguez. “Your heart goes into everything you do, and we see that in your quiet leadership and steady purpose in giving kids in the justice system a fair chance to succeed.”

“As Anthony’s colleague and friend, it is a pleasure to recognize his many achievements,” added TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca, who served as IADDA board chair from 2010 to 2012. “Anthony cares profoundly about creating opportunities for youth so they can grow up safely and participate in society in healthy and meaningful ways.”

Harden extended appreciation to his colleagues, many of whom were in attendance to celebrate his accomplishments, and his wife, Gloria, for her unwavering support. Thanking IADDA board members and CEO, Sara Howe, as well as TASC’s executive team for their advocacy on behalf of clients, families, and staff, Harden offered special appreciation for his juvenile services team, led by Maxie Knighten. “They are the true frontline soldiers and without them none of this is possible.”

With more than 20 years of dedicated service at TASC, Harden leads the agency’s services for the Juvenile Drug Court in Cook County, as well as TASC’s programs in partnership with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. He serves on several committees and boards, including the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Executive Committee, the Austin Community Coalition for Healthy Lifestyles, and the UIC PHAT (Preventing HIV/AIDS Among Teens) Community Advisory Board.

Established in 1967, IADDA is a statewide advocacy organization that represents more than 50 organizations across Illinois that provide substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services. TASC is a member agency of IADDA.



OP-ED: In Heroin Fight, Public Health Strategy, Vivitrol Are Key Weapons


Vivitrol reduces opioid cravings and prevents relapse by blocking the opioid receptors.

OP-ED: First and foremost, Illinois public officials – legislators and the governor alike – must recognize that the Illinois heroin crisis is a public health crisis.

For that reason, we applaud lawmakers of the Illinois House Heroin Crisis Task Force for approaching and taking testimony from Winnebago County public health stakeholders at its public hearing held in Rockford on July 7.

Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, which has served northern Illinois since 1981 by designing and administering programs that connect individuals involved in the criminal justice system with supervised, community-based drug treatment and recovery support, knows from our decades of reaching tens of thousands of individuals across Illinois that drug addiction requires treatment and recovery management. The most effective treatments will vary depending on the type of drug and the characteristics of the individual. Treatment can encompass a combination of behavior therapies, counseling, ancillary services, and medication assistance.

Individuals highly susceptible to overdose include those who have been released from jail, prison, inpatient treatment, or hospitalization. Periods of abstinence lower the body’s tolerance for the drug and greatly elevate the risk of overdose and death. We know, for example, that client education, communication among systems, and intensive case management can literally be life-saving when a person with opiate addiction is released. We can—and have—prevented tragedies by implementing communication alerts, intervention processes, and vigilant case management at these critical junctures of risk.

In addition to such interventions, other advances include the use of FDA-approved medications, provided in conjunction with clinical therapy in order to prevent overdose and boost recovery.

Approved medications include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. There are various brand names for these medications and combinations of them, including but not limited to Suboxone, which is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone; and Vivitrol, Revia, and Depade, which are different forms of naltrexone.

In the Winnebago County Drug Court, for example, TASC and our partners have witnessed the effectiveness of Vivitrol, which reduces opioid cravings and prevents relapse by blocking the opioid receptors. In this particular program, clients receive Vivitrol along with treatment and TASC case management. Since this program was initiated – specifically for drug court clients with opiate addictions – client overdoses or hospitalizations have dropped to zero.

Despite TASC’s own success with Vivitrol, the broader heroin risk remains ever present in Winnebago County.

Several weeks ago, the Winnebago County Coroner reported that 18 of the 42 overdose deaths in Winnebago County so far this year were heroin-related.

By adopting a public health-centered strategy that includes FDA-approved medications, such as Vivitrol, the State of Illinois can begin to turn the tide in the heroin epidemic tragedy. But if the public health approach is ignored by lawmakers and the governor, the heroin scourge will continue to swamp communities.

Bridget Kiely, BA, CADC, CCJAP

Board Registered Interventionist

Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities Administrator

Rockford, Illinois