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.

State Panel to Address Data Gaps in Racial and Ethnic Identities of Arrestees

(Chicago, IL) – Illinois lawmakers concerned about incomplete demographic profiles of arrestees have created a panel to develop a comprehensive system to collect and analyze police data.

On August 16, Governor Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 2271, which creates the Racial and Ethnic Impact Research Task Force. This panel will develop a method for the standardized collection and analysis of data on racial and ethnic identity of arrestees by law enforcement. The bill was sponsored by State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) and State Representative LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago).

The panel came about following the recommendations of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, a statewide, bipartisan group established in 2008 to examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups. Through its independent research efforts, the Commission found gaps in relevant data that would allow for a comprehensive statistical analysis of the impact of these laws.

As an example of data gaps, 99 percent of Illinois State Police arrestees currently are classified as either Black or white, with unknown percentages of people of Latino or other ethnic origins.

“We know it’s essential for public policy to be built on data and research, not on anecdotes and intuition,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC). “The absence of a standardized method to collect and analyze arrestee data impedes both a fair assessment of the extent of the problem and a rational basis for a sound solution to advance racial justice in Illinois.”

The new task force will also work on the development of a process that will provide Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements to state legislators. Such statements will provide a prospective analysis of the likely racial and ethnic identity of arrestees under any proposed future changes to the state’s criminal laws.

“I would like to congratulate Governor Quinn, Senator Hunter and Representative Ford for their leadership and support,” said Rodriguez.

In addition to Representative Ford, House sponsors included State Representatives Mary Flowers (D), Esther Golar (D), and André Thapedi (D).

The task force, which will be staffed by TASC’s Center for Health and Justice, will hold at least one public hearing and will provide a final report with policy recommendations to the Illinois General Assembly.

TASC, Inc. has a 35-year history of promoting social justice and providing alternatives to incarceration in Illinois. TASC’s Racial Justice Initiative, including dissemination of the findings of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, has received generous support from The Chicago Community Trust.

Governor Pat Quinn Approves Law to Improve Employment Chances for Former Offenders

(Chicago, IL) – Governor Pat Quinn has approved an additional mission for a state employment oversight panel: review existing job regulations that could be revised to help former offenders get jobs.

Quinn signed legislation, House Bill 297, that directs the Illinois Task Force on Inventorying Employment Restrictions to submit to his office and the Illinois General Assembly findings and recommendations regarding employment restrictions–not related to public safety–that could be changed to improve job opportunities for those have paid their debt to society.

Sponsored by State Representative Connie Howard (D-Chicago) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the new law requires all state agencies under the Governor to produce a report describing restrictions that could be eased or be eliminated based on criminal records for each occupation under their offices.

“Ultimately, the new law may help remove a barrier to employment for qualified applicants who’ve been involved in the justice system,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).

“Discriminating against qualified job applicants is no way to boost employment or reduce recidivism,” added Rodriguez. “Fortunately, Represenative Howard, Senator Raoul and Governor Quinn recognize that employment discrimination will not move the state forward.”

In addition to Representative Howard, House sponsors included State Representatives Mary Flowers (D), Monique Davis (D), Marlow Colvin (D), and Camille Lilly (D).

In addition to Senator Raoul, State Senator Donne Trotter (D) co-sponsored the legislation.

The task force will report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly by September 1, 2012.

Racial Justice: Gov. Pat Quinn OKs Panel to Tackle African-American Economic, Social Disparities

(Chicago, IL) – To address economic and social inequalities faced by African Americans in Illinois, the state legislature this year overwhelmingly approved and Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation that creates the Commission to End the Disparities Facing the African-American Community.

The measure, House Bill 1547, sponsored by State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) and State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), charges the new 31-member, unpaid panel to research and make policy recommendations regarding disparities facing African Americans in areas of health care, employment, education, criminal justice, and housing.

“Representative Davis and Senator Hunter deserve credit for spearheading this important racial justice legislation,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).

“Racial justice demands that Illinois have a comprehensive strategy for ending current social and economic disparities faced daily by African Americans, disparities which have only deepened with onset of the economic crisis in 2008,” Rodriguez added.

In addition to Representative Davis, House sponsors included State Representatives Cynthia Soto (D), Annazette Collins (D), Camille Lilly (D), LaShawn Ford (D), Eddie Lee Jackson (D), Charles Jefferson (D), Susana Mendoza (D), Greg Harris (D), Mary Flowers (D), Marlow Colvin (D), Lisa Dugan (D), Patrick Verschoore (D), and Robert Rita (D).

In addition to Senator Hunter, Senate sponsors included State Senators Jacqueline Collins (D) and Donne Trotter (D).

The commission, which will make its recommendations to the Illinois General Assembly by December 31, 2013, will hold at least one public hearing.

To Combat Discrimination, Illinois Judges Can Now Seal Arrest, Trial Records of Persons Innocent, Acquitted of Criminal Charges

(Chicago, IL) – Discrimination can haunt even the innocent. Job seekers who have been arrested for a felony crime, but found innocent still face discrimination when seeking employment and housing because the original arrest record has been required to be a public record.

Until now.

Thanks to new, bi-partisan legislation, House Bill 298, sponsored by State Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago) and State Senator Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and approved by Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois judges now have the discretion to seal felony arrest and trial records that ended in either dismissal or acquittal of charges or reversal of a conviction.

“Denying a job or an apartment to an innocent person is discrimination,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC).  “This law will help advance social justice in both employment and housing.”

Rodriguez also praised the law’s sponsors and the Governor.

“Representative Howard, Senator Lightford,  the bill’s co-sponsors, and Governor Quinn have rendered a public service to those who face employment and housing discrimination,” said Rodriguez.

In addition to Howard, House sponsors included State Representatives Mary Flowers (D), Marlow Colvin (D), Robyn Gabel (D), Al Riley (D), Lisa Dugan (D), Patrick Verschoore (D) Camille Lilly (D), Arthur Turner (D), La Shawn Ford (D), Rita Mayfield (D), Patricia Bellock (R), and Derrick Smith (D).

In addition to Lightford, Senate sponsors included State Senators Jacqueline Collins (D) Mattie Hunter (D), Thomas Johnson (R), Kwame Raoul (D), Iris Martinez (D), Donne Trotter (D), Toi Hutchinson (D) and Emil Jones, III (D).

The new law reflects one of the 10 key recommendations made by the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, a statewide, bipartisan group established in 2008 to examine the impact of Illinois drug laws on racial and ethnic groups. The Commission’s final report, released to the Illinois legislature in December 2010, recommended that the State prohibit the inclusion of drug-related arrests that do not result in conviction in criminal histories collected for employment-related purposes.

The law, signed by Quinn on August 19, is effective immediately.

TASC, Inc. has a 35-year history of promoting social justice and providing alternatives to incarceration in Illinois. TASC’s Racial Justice Initiative, including dissemination of the findings of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, has received generous support from The Chicago Community Trust.