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)

 

 

 

 

Sam’s Club Donation Helps TASC Serve Parents & Babies

sc logo(Chicago) — Two TASC programs that serve children and families in Chicago and Peoria have received generous donations from Bentonville, Arkansas-based Sam’s Club. The donations include nearly 800 containers of baby formula as well as 1,100 diapers and nearly 8,000 wipes.

The gift was facilitated by Ivie & Associates and Diamond Marketing Solutions, an Illinois-based company.

For the more than 2,600 families TASC supports through these programs, the items provide critical relief for household budgets that are severely strained. A 2013 report published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of mothers in poverty report that an adequate supply of diapers is unaffordable to them, correlating to significantly increased maternal depression and anxiety, which also creates greater social, emotional, and behavioral risks for children.

A sufficient supply of diapers costs an average of $18 per week per child, the study reported. Almost 8 percent of women reported changing diapers less frequently when their supply is running short, creating significant risks for baby diaper rash and urinary tract infections.

The federal SNAP (food stamp) program does not allow for the purchase of diapers, and families in poverty often lack washing machines to clean cloth diapers. In Illinois, State Senator Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign) proposed legislation earlier this year (SB2672) to exempt diapers from sales tax.

The diapers and other donations to TASC from Sam’s Club directly support families in Illinois who struggle with these basic necessities.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca (left) and Philanthropy Director Ben Underwood (right) with donated formula ready to deliver to families.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca (left) and Philanthropy Director Ben Underwood (right) with donated formula ready to deliver to families.

In Chicago, the Recovery Coach Program helps parents with alcohol or other drug problems achieve the sobriety and wellness they need to be the parents their children deserve. TASC works with each client individually, developing a recovery plan and ensuring that parents have access to the community-based support services they need to provide a healthy and stable home.

DSCF6460In Peoria, TASC’s Smart Start  program serves low-income, high-risk women and girls who are pregnant or who have children under age five. Smart Start was created as a response to an infant mortality crisis in Peoria County, where in recent years the local infant mortality rate has been alarmingly higher than the national average. TASC’s intensive one-on-one work with at-risk mothers ensures that they receive proper prenatal care and education, and helps women build and maintain healthy lives for themselves and

“TASC is deeply grateful to have Sam’s Club, Ivie & Associates, and Diamond Marketing Solutions as partners in our work,” said TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca. “Without basic necessities like diapers, parents struggle and children suffer. It truly takes all of us working together to help children grow up in healthy families.”

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TASC VP, Experts Spotlight Prevention, Treatment Funding at Illinois House Heroin Hearing

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca testifies before House Task Force on Heroin Crisis (photo: David Ormsby)

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca testifies before the Illinois House Task Force on Heroin Crisis (photo: David Ormsby)

(Chicago) – A top TASC official, a local prosecutor, and health experts sent a clear message to lawmakers at an Illinois House heroin hearing this week: prevention and treatment funding are a priority.

The new House Task Force on Heroin Crisis held its first hearing in Chicago on Tuesday and took testimony from health and criminal justice experts, including TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca.

House task force members present at the hearing – State Reps. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who chairs the panel, Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale), Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), Esther Golar (D-Chicago), and Chris Welch (D-Hillside) – heard witnesses testify on multiple dimensions of Illinois’ heroin crisis. In addition to treatment and prevention funding, testifiers highlighted the science of addiction, describing it as a “medical disease,” and cited the law enforcement challenge of stopping illegal drug sales happening by way of pre-paid mobile phones that lack owner identification.

DuPage County Coroner Dr. Richard Jorgensen, a former emergency room surgeon, explained to legislators the medical impact of heroin on the brain and stressed how the drug’s purity has intensified. He also issued an alarm about the over-prescription of opiate painkillers.

Of those who become addicted to heroin, he said, “Most people become addicted through prescription drugs, and then turn to heroin because it’s cheaper.”

Additionally, Jorgensen emphasized that heroin use is a medical issue, not a criminal justice issue.

“You can’t criminalize your way out of this epidemic,” said Jorgensen. “I really believe that all the prevention dollars that you put in come back many times over.”

TASC’s Palanca bluntly told the committee that solutions are well known and need to be implemented. “The solutions aren’t rocket science and they need to be brought to scale,” said Palanca. “Those solutions include use of proven medications, evidence-based treatment, and prevention.”

Lang told Palanca that the task force plans on leaning on his organization’s expertise.

“We know because of the history of your fine organization that you have a lot to offer us,” said Lang.

Dr. Joseph Troiani, director of Behavioral Health Programs for the Will County Health Department, pointed to the heavy budget cuts inflicted on Illinois’ drug prevention and treatment programs, noting that prevention funding has been cut 88% and drug treatment more than 40% since 2009.

Troiani also stressed that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act provides an opportunity to expand treatment services, but warned that the issue of capacity – building facilities – needs to be addressed, saying that capital funding for bricks and mortar is critical.

Following testimony by Dr. Seth Eisenberg, medical director for the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Lang asked Eisenberg to “provide to this committee your ideal budget. We know there’s been a cut. What would it take?”

Also testifying at the hearing were Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Narcotics Prosecution Bureau Chief Brian Sexton, and April Marin and Cassandra Wingert, family members of heroin overdose victims.

Marin testified that her 20-year-old son, whom she suspects was trying heroin for the first time, had typed into Google just days before he died from an overdose, “How much heroin can you safely snort?”

Marin has made it her mission to promote intervention, education, and prevention, entreating legislators for their support.

National Survey of Diversion Programs Takes Center Stage at Congressional Briefing

(Washington, DC) – A new survey of criminal justice diversion programs across the U.S. reveals that law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts are increasingly diverting certain people with non-violent charges away from courts and incarceration and into smarter, more science-based, and more effective alternatives in the community. These diversion options are designed to save costs, address individuals’ behavioral health issues, and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.

The report, produced by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (CHJ) and released at a U.S. Congressional staff briefing today, identifies and describes more than 100 criminal justice diversion programs from across the country upon which justice systems increasingly rely.

“The idea with this report is to provide a picture of the landscape of diversion and to promote its effective use at the front end of the justice system,” said CHJ President Pamela Rodriguez. “The survey intends to boost conversations across the country about available alternatives to conviction and incarceration.”

Rodriguez says diversion programs are gaining currency among law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts across the country.

“The survey found that as prison populations have swelled and public budgets have tightened, many jurisdictions are embracing diversion alternatives out of necessity,” said Rodriguez. “The report is a great benefit to law enforcement and justice systems in terms of the scope and breadth of diversion options available to them.”

The survey rests on the understanding that a criminal conviction – for either a misdemeanor or felony – triggers a cascade of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become and remain a productive member of the community, according to Rodriguez.

“This survey focuses on diversion programs that address an individual’s behavior without resulting in a criminal conviction,” said Rodriguez. “These programs may occur as early as street-level law enforcement intervention, or as late as court involvement, but the distinguishing characteristic of the programs surveyed is that they allow individuals to avoid a conviction, which otherwise clings to a person long after his or her debt to society has been paid.”

To develop this report, project staff surveyed more than 100 diversion programs with the intention of spotlighting program design, participating stakeholders, affected communities, implementation challenges and successes, and, where available, cost savings and overall effectiveness, aiming also to express the scale of their existence across the country.

In addition to highlighting the proliferation and diversity of diversion programs across the country, the survey analysis also found:

  • While programs vary in their approach to achieve diversion from traditional criminal justice case processing, a common critical component among many is a focus on individuals with substance use and mental health issues.
  • Many diversion programs currently are limited to individuals with first-time or low-level offenses.
  • Resources should be data driven, matching individuals’ risks and clinical needs with appropriate supervision and services in the community.
  • Given the many types of diversion programs in existence across the country, there are no apparent overarching standards for collecting or publishing evaluation data, nor standard definitions and language among such programs.

“We are at a critical juncture in criminal justice policy,” said Rodriguez. “Diversion programs across the country are emerging with a collective voice that says, ‘Locking up and labeling people is rarely the answer to non-violent offenses, especially when substance use and mental health issues play a role. There’s a better way.’”

The Center for Health and Justice at TASC is a national public policy group that offers solutions for criminal justice, child welfare, and behavioral health, focusing on strategies and lessons learned for reducing recidivism, improving health interventions, and achieving public cost savings.

 Twitter @TASC_CHJ   #diversion

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC.  Photos by Warren Hansen.

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.

 

TASC Honors Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN News Anchor Bob Jordan

(Chicago) – Moving stories of parents in prison, uplifting images of their recovery and family reunification, an energized room of 340 guests, and inspiring words from respected leaders. These were some of the highlights of TASC’s 2013 Leadership Awards Luncheon, which took place December 11 and honored Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN-TV Anchor Robert H. Jordan, Jr.

Each year, TASC’s Leadership Awards Luncheon celebrates the outstanding leadership of those who consistently demonstrate innovation and courage in addressing some of society’s most pervasive challenges.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez presented this year’s TASC Justice Leadership Award to Samuels, who has dedicated his career to justice and fairness. He leads the New York-based Legal Action Center, whose mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas. Rodriguez praised the exceptional team of individuals and partners that Samuels has brought together as president of the Legal Action Center, noting that, “For more than 30 years, Paul Samuels has established himself and the organization he directs as one of the preeminent leaders in efforts dedicated to justice and fairness, particularly for people with substance use disorders.”

“This is all about teamwork and collaboration,” emphasized Samuels. “We couldn’t do anything that really mattered without all of you, everybody in this room, TASC, and all the other advocates and service providers and people around the country.” Samuels said he was “in awe of the work that TASC does,” referencing the organization’s direct services for nearly 29,000 people each year, and continued, “I am also very familiar with the terrific public policy work that you do in addition to all the direct services work, and in all these intersecting areas of drug policy, mental health, health care financing, diversion, alternatives to incarceration, community reentry, juvenile justice. It’s just amazing the work that all of you have done to build TASC into a powerhouse organization, not just in Illinois. It’s nationally renowned for its leadership, creativity, and cutting edge work. It’s truly an honor to receive an award from you.”

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca presented TASC’s 2013 Public Voice Leadership Award to Jordan, who frequently covers issues related to criminal justice and health, including a special hour-long program last year dedicated to community solutions to youth violence.

“It was Bob’s search to better understand the complex issues of youth, violence, community safety, and their possible connections to addiction and mental illness which brought TASC and Bob Jordan together,” said Palanca. “His powerful curiosity and commitment to uncover, understand, and address the complicated—sometimes messy—social realities at the root of the news story, his leadership in bringing these discussions to a public forum, and his willingness to personally connect people, services and resources together. This is exactly what this award is about.”

In accepting his award, Jordan recounted a recent story of a young person who had gotten in trouble with the law, and whose life had been turned around with TASC’s help. Jordan said, “It shows how we all are connected somehow to this immense problem of people making mistakes, doing [stupid] things that can just ruin their lives, and we all have seen it happen. So we know that there has to be some coordinated effort with judges, with programs like TASC, with agencies that work together, and with our legislature and trying to work on adjusting our laws, and our own selves in adjusting the way we think about how we’re going to deal with this enormous problem.”

Samuels summed up the problem: “In the 90s the war on drugs turned into a war on drug users—or, more accurately, on people of color and poor people who use drugs, or who were just suspected of using drugs. Our nation’s public policies emphasize mass incarceration, mostly of young, African American and Latino men, even though whites use drugs even more, by most studies, than people of color. And our policies also put forward the horrible notion of permanent punishment of people convicted or even arrested for a drug offense. The list of barriers that have been put in place are horrifying, too long to list. They include denying people employment in a broad range of fields because of a criminal history and/or an addiction history, evicting people from public housing, and not even letting them visit their families.”

TASC has a 37-year history of providing program and policy responses to these challenges, with a steady track record of facilitating clients’ success and reducing recidivism. “TASC has an unwavering commitment to our communities and clients, our partner agencies and institutions—and to excellence,” said TASC Board Chair Marcia Lipetz. “We know our programs work because we rely on evidence-based practice.”

Founded in Cook County in 1976, TASC is a statewide, nonprofit agency that serves adults and youth who have substance use or mental health problems and who are involved in courts, jails, prisons, or foster care. TASC’s Center for Health and Justice provides national consultation and public policy solutions in health and justice.

Mark your calendars: TASC’s 2014 luncheon will take place on December 10 at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ