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.

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.

 

Top Researchers Advise on Criminal Justice Reform in “The Prison Journal”; Chicago Experts Arthur Lurigio, Pamela Rodriguez Featured

(Chicago, IL) – The Prison Journal has released a landmark publication on criminal justice reform that is a must-read for policy makers across the country. Chicago’s Arthur Lurigio, professor of psychology and criminology at Loyola University Chicago, and Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), one of the nation’s leading prison alternative programs, are featured authors and guest editors of the special edition. 

Harry K. Wexler of the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI) is also a lead author and guest editor of the special publication.

The issue, Criminal Justice Reform: Issues and Recommendations for Corrections, presents a series of articles by several of the nation’s preeminent researchers in criminal justice. They discuss the nature and consequences of the current criminal justice crisis and strategic solutions that can reverse the costly trends of the past 30 years.

A total of 7.3 million Americans are now incarcerated or on probation or parole, equal to one in every 31 adults, an increase of 290% since 1980. Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1200% since 1980. A significant percentage of these offenders have no history of violence or major drug selling activity.

“Increasingly, the drug war that has been waged for 30 years is seen as a ‘failure’ or a creator of more harm than good,” writes criminologist Alfred Blumstein in the special issue. “Nevertheless, it has been pursued with increasing intensity using arrest and incarceration as its dominant outcome measure.”

“There is a growing U.S. national consensus that with proper attention to the policies that drive the size of prison populations, these populations can be reduced,” add researchers Todd Clear and Dennis Shrantz. “Concurrently, the current fiscal crisis has created enormous pressure to reduce prison populations, with a first-in-decades showing of political support.”

“Sustainable reforms require legislation,” write the guest editors. “Without that leadership, or in the absence of political will or public support for the changes recommended, they will end up as so many other efforts—forward-thinking ideas filed away on a shelf.”

The issue can be downloaded from http://tpj.sagepub.com/content/91/3_suppl.toc. After October 31, it can be accessed with the following user ID: Edtpj and password: Sagetpj. The publication’s articles include:

Many national groups have called for correctional reform, including the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center on the States, the Sentencing Project, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

TASC, Inc. is a statewide, nonprofit organization with a 35-year history of providing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders in Illinois.