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.

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.

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.

 

TASC Leaders Featured in 2014 National Drug Control Strategy and White House Video

(Chicago) –  TASC President Pamela F. Rodriguez and President Emeritus Melody M. Heaps are featured in the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy, released July 9 by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Rodriguez, TASC’s president and CEO since 2009, and Heaps, who founded the agency and led it for 33 years, were honored at the White House in March as Advocates for Action for their national leadership in advancing system-wide justice interventions for people with substance use disorders. Advocates for Action is an initiative by ONCDP to recognize individuals’ achievements in improving the health and safety of their communities by combating the cycle of drug use and crime.

“Pamela Rodriguez and Melody Heaps are re-designing the criminal justice system to break the cycle of addiction, arrest, and incarceration,” says the introduction to a new video on the White House website.

As witnesses to the societal impact of illicit drugs and criminal justice responses over the past 40 years, Rodriguez and Heaps provide a concise history of these issues in the 11-minute video. They discuss the origins of TASC, the generational influences of drugs and crime in communities, the importance of appropriately diverting people with substance use and mental health problems from the justice system into health services in the community, and the significant opportunities that the Affordable Care Act presents in reducing rates of mass incarceration and recidivism by increasing access to behavioral health treatment.

In addition, TASC’s work in supporting systemic change via evidence-based sentencing is profiled in the national strategy’s fourth chapter: Break the Cycle of Drug Use, Crime, Delinquency, and Incarceration. With funding from ONDCP, and along with a team of national partners, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice are working with national law enforcement leaders to provide training on the science of addiction and how this understanding can inform police practices and policies.

The National Drug Control Strategy is published annually and provides key strategies and successful models for reducing illicit drug use and its consequences.

Researchers to Study Impact of Affordable Care Act on Public Safety; Cook County Key Research Site

(New York)Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LAJF) has announced a grant to a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School to study the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) impact on public safety.

The project will examine innovative programs focused on providing formerly incarcerated individuals with access to medical, behavioral health, and social services under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“Our aim is to identify possible links that may help to explain whether improved access to health care can contribute to a reduction in crime,” said Haiden Huskamp, a professor in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Huskamp is leading the study along with Colleen Barry, an associate professor and associate chair for Research and Practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

An inventory will be produced as part of the overall Hopkins/Harvard study and will be available at the end of the calendar year. The research will include an in-depth study of a unique partnership in Illinois between the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), with the location being inside the Cook County Jail where thousands of individuals who are exiting the jail have been signed up for Medicaid coverage.

People involved in the criminal justice system often have extensive health care needs. More than two thirds of jail detainees meet clinical criteria for substance dependence or abuse, and 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women entering jail have a serious mental illness. Yet, studies find that the overwhelming majority of people leaving jail – 80-90 percent – do not have health insurance. New health care options under the ACA will allow many of these individuals to receive coverage.

“The goal of this project is to learn everything we can about how the ACA is being used nationally to make our communities safer and to improve public health,” said LJAF Vice President of Criminal Justice Anne Milgram.

Dr. Barry emphasized the importance of conducting in-depth studies of earlier innovator programs that are currently enrolling individuals exiting jails and prisons in Medicaid under the ACA, and developing ways to connect them to mental health, addiction, and other medical and social services in their communities.

“Early programs like the Cook County partnership have the potential to improve population health and may lower crime, so it is essential to learn lessons from their experiences and to share insights with jurisdictions in other areas of the country considering initiating similar efforts,” said Dr. Barry.

Research findings will be published in a peer-reviewed journal within the next year.

Mental Health Court Celebrates 10 Years

(Chicago) — The Cook County Mental Health Court celebrated its 10-year anniversary on May 20, graduating three recent participants and lauding the successes of numerous past graduates.

Since its inception in 2004, the specialty court has served 663 people. It is unique in that it is specifically designed to serve felony probationers who have chronic mental health conditions, most of whom also have co-occurring substance dependencies.

The goal of the mental health court is to reduce repeated histories of arrest and incarceration among participants by providing comprehensive clinical services delivered by a coordinated team of partners.

“We’re here for a reason, and it’s not to lock everybody up,” said Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. “This is important work, and it touches our souls watching people come back from challenging situations, beating drugs and mental illness. We’re very proud of them, and we congratulate today’s graduates.”

An estimated 20 percent of people entering the Cook County Jail suffer from serious mental illness, often with co-occurring substance use disorders and medical conditions.

Compared to the year before program involvement, the average number of arrests among participants during the first year of the program decreased by 80 percent, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. Additionally, the average number of days spent in jail dropped by 76 percent, resulting in estimated yearly savings to the county of almost $8 million.

Director of Specialty Courts and retired judge Lawrence Fox, along with Judge Biebel and TASC President Pamela Rodriguez, was instrumental in establishing the Cook County Mental Health Court, now operating in seven courtrooms across the county. Judge Fox commended the program for effectively diverting people from jail and saving lives and families.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the room — able to retire as a judge to work on these programs, instead of having to do the difficult work of putting people in prison,” said Judge Fox. “These courts are far and away the model courts for the country. The court system cares about these participants, and there’s no better work you can do than be part of helping people make changes in their lives.”

TASC Vice President of Operations Janelle Prueter spoke on behalf of TASC about how the program has helped hundreds of people involved in the criminal justice system to receive medical treatment and counseling instead of jail.

“Thanks to the judges for their vision and commitment to this work, and for ensuring that people with mental illness can be diverted from the system and get the help they need,” said Prueter. “Thanks to the clients, for the privilege of getting to do work and be of service to them. We honor the transformation they’ve achieved in their lives.”

Kimberly, who graduated from the program in 2009, was among several former clients who gave words of encouragement to the new graduates. With a former graduate and close friend standing at her side, she explained how the judge and TASC never gave up on her even when she seemed to lose all strength.

“I did TASC and was sober for six years,” said Kimberly. “But I didn’t want to face my other problems. I kept remembering TASC, and I called Pam (Ewing, TASC caseworker), and I got into Mental Health Court. And I realized they love me more than I love me. My advice to today’s graduates — when you fall down, never stay stuck.”

The mental health court was created in Cook County in 2004 as a plan for more effective and coordinated programs and services for people with mental illnesses. It focuses on facilitating communications and linking services across criminal justice, mental health and addiction treatment, and community services. Cook County’s program is distinctive because of its emphasis on systemic change, its selection of felony probationers with non-violent offenses as the target population, and its focus on post-adjudication services. It is funded by federal, state, and court grants.

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Members of the Cook County Mental Health Court team (left to right): Director of Specialty Courts Judge Lawrence Fox; Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Cole; TASC Clinical Case Manager Rachel Wendt; Judge Thomas Gainer; Mental Health Probation Officer Michelle Hargon; TASC Clinical Supervisor Pam Ewing; and Judge Clayton Crane. (Photo: TASC)

Members of the Cook County Mental Health Court team (left to right): Director of Specialty Courts Judge Lawrence Fox; Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Cole; TASC Clinical Case Manager Rachel Wendt; Judge Thomas Gainer; Mental Health Probation Officer Michelle Hargon; TASC Clinical Supervisor Pam Ewing; and Judge Clayton Crane.
(Photo: TASC)