New Law Removes Barrier to Restored Citizenship for Eligible TASC Clients

(Chicago) – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has approved a bill aiming to prevent the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction for TASC clients who have successfully completed probation, including alcohol or drug treatment.

SB2601, sponsored by Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3) and State Rep. Sonya Harper (D-6), extends the time period during which qualified program participants can ask the court to have their sentence “vacated,” or cancelled. Only participants without a previous felony conviction on record who have not already had a judgment vacated under the program may request this option.

Under the old law, requests to have a judgment vacated had to be submitted within 30 days after adjudication of the case (i.e., within 30 days of the person being sentenced to probation). In practice, this often proved a nearly impossible condition to meet, with an arbitrarily short deadline. A judge is not allowed to grant this type of request until after a participant has completed TASC’s program requirements and been discharged successfully from probation, which usually occurs 12-18 months after sentencing.

Under the new law, individuals will have until 60 days following successful discharge from probation to submit a request. It takes effect on January 1, 2017.

“Now, people who have worked all the way through the program—completing substance use treatment and fulfilling all of the other conditions of probation—won’t be automatically blocked from embarking on a pathway to restored citizenship,” said Laura Brookes, TASC’s policy director.

TASC’s court program is a longstanding alternative-to-incarceration option available to judges under Illinois law for sentencing individuals with substance use problems who are charged with certain non-violent offenses. On average, Illinois judges divert approximately 1,800 people each year to probation with addiction treatment and TASC case management instead of sending them to prison, saving the state millions of dollars in prevented incarceration costs, and connecting individuals to the services needed to address the substance use problems often correlated with their offenses.

A criminal conviction results in a host of long-lasting collateral consequences that dampen prospects of securing a job, finding stable housing, obtaining employment training or education—the very things needed to attain productive community citizenship. The American Bar Association catalogues thousands of such collateral consequences, and Illinois policymakers have passed many measures designed to eliminate them or mitigate their impacts, such as options for criminal record sealing and expungement and certificates of good conduct or relief from disability.

 

TASC Consulting Supports New White House Data-Driven Justice Initiative

(Chicago) – On June 30, the White House launched the Data-Driven Justice Initiative with a bipartisan coalition of 67 city, county, and state governments who have committed to using data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system. Coalition participants are changing approaches to pretrial incarceration so that people with lower-level charges no longer stay in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond.

These innovative strategies, which have measurably reduced jail populations in several communities, help stabilize individuals and families, better serve communities, and often save money in the process.

“The Data-Driven Justice communities are leading by example by committing to adopt these proven strategies that reduce unnecessary arrests and incarceration. These approaches provide much needed stability to individuals and families, and make our communities stronger while saving taxpayer dollars,” ‎said DJ Patil, U.S. Chief Data Scientist.

To help advance these efforts, TASC responded to the White House’s call to action and will provide telephone and on-site consulting to several jurisdictions within the coalition that are developing data-driven diversion practices.

“We are thrilled to be working with the White House and with partners across the country to support good diversion policies and practices, based on the evidence of what works,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

The DDJ communities will implement the following strategies that have proven to be effective in reducing unnecessary incarceration in jails:

  • Use data to identify and proactively break the cycle of incarceration. DDJ communities will bring data together from across criminal justice and health systems to identify the individuals with the highest number of contacts with police, ambulance, emergency departments, and other services, and link them to health, behavioral health, and social services in the community, with a goal of reducing over-reliance on emergency healthcare and encounters with the criminal justice system.
  • Equip law enforcement and first responders with the tools they need to respond and divert. Recognizing that police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and firefighters are often front-line responders to people experiencing mental health crises, DDJ communities will create systems and protocols to help effectively de-escalate crisis situations and safely divert people to the appropriate service providers instead of arresting them.
  • Use data-driven, validated, pretrial risk assessment tools to inform pretrial release decisions. DDJ communities will work towards using objective, data-driven, validated risk-assessment tools to identify low-risk defendants held in jail and identify opportunities for their safe release.

“Just as the power of ‘big data’ is being used in the private sector to have greater insight and impact than ever before on their decision making, so too is it the right time for it be put to use by criminal justice decision makers for the same reasons,” said Jac Charlier, who directs training and consulting services for the Center for Health and Justice at TASC. “The vision of safer communities and our citizens leading better lives is very compelling.”

Each year, more than 11 million people move through America’s 3,100 local jails, many on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors, costing local governments approximately $22 billion a year.

Leveraging the opportunities of Medicaid expansion, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice have been working with local, state, and national partners to develop and implement strategies to safely divert people out of the justice system as early as possible.

Maureen McDonnell, who directs healthcare strategies for TASC and provides consulting services nationally, sees the tremendous advances possible through such diversion strategies.

“Through coordinated efforts taking place within jurisdictions across the country, millions of people with substance use and mental health disorders ultimately can be diverted away from the front end of the justice system and into appropriate care in the community,” she said. “This is a very exciting time.”

(left to right): TASC’s Jac Charlier, Pam Rodriguez, and Maureen McDonnell participated in the Data-Driven Justice inaugural workshop at the White House on June 13.

(left to right): TASC’s Jac Charlier, Pam Rodriguez, and Maureen McDonnell participated in the Data-Driven Justice inaugural workshop at the White House on June 13.

Paths to Addiction Treatment Fraught With Barriers; Misinformed Expectations Can Set Up Disappointment

(Chicago) – For people in need of addiction treatment, and for families struggling to find help for a loved one, the barriers can be overwhelming.

Desperation can lead families to fall prey to unsavory treatment marketing practices, reported Alison Knopf in the June 13 edition of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly. The issue’s lead article describes how a Florida treatment center targets Illinois patients who have out-of-network insurance, which has no contract-based cost limitations.

TASC’s Peter Palanca was one of the experts quoted:

“These are predatory marketing tactics,” said Peter Palanca, executive vice president and chief operating officer of TASC, based in Chicago. “I don’t think there’s any question about that,” he told ADAW. “To prey on families who are scared to death, grasping at straws, terrified about their son or daughter dying” is wrong, he said.

Knopf also spoke with Illinois experts Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University; Jud DeLoss, external counsel for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, and Phil Eaton, president and CEO of Rosecrance, all of whom expressed concern over certain business models and tactics that take advantage of uninformed consumers. The treatment center in Florida, for example, employs a full-time Midwest outreach coordinator, making Illinois the center’s main referral source.

“You shouldn’t have to get on a plane to get treatment,” advised TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “Recovery doesn’t happen magically in a program far away from home. It’s a long process involving changes in physiology, changes in behavior, changes in relationships, and changes in many other aspects of a person’s life. Ultimately, it happens day by day, in the community where people live and work and learn.”

Common barriers to entering treatment can be external influences, such as lack of access, funding, or time, or internal factors, such as stigma, depression, and personal beliefs. These barriers may be compounded by variables such as insurance coverage, geography, race and ethnicity, genderage, and other factors.

Misinformed expectations about treatment also contribute to people not getting to into treatment, or not getting the treatment that works for them, said Rodriguez.

The biggest misconception about treatment is that it’s going to magically fix you,” she said. “People often have wrong expectations about what’s going to happen as a result of going to treatment. You don’t go to treatment to get fixed. You go to treatment to learn entirely new ways to live your life. And that can be scary and difficult.

“You need to find treatment that feels right for you,” she added. “If your gut says it isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Just as with any other health issue, you might go through a few doctors before you find one that works for you. It’s the same with treatment.”

The Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse publishes a county-by-county list of substance use disorder treatment programs. Nationwide, call or visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP.

Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County Supports Connections from Jail to Drug Treatment

(Waukegan, IL) – The Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County has awarded a second year of funding to TASC to help individuals get into substance use and mental health treatment after leaving the Lake County Jail.

The program, initiated in 2015 as a partnership among TASC, Lake County officials, and community-based service providers, helps ensure access to treatment for individuals charged with non-violent offenses. Working inside the jail, TASC’s care coordinator conducts clinical assessments and connects eligible program participants with appropriate community-based treatment providers.

During the weeks immediately following release from jail, individuals are at increased risk for overdose. Additionally, risks are elevated for costly hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and detoxification episodes. By connecting people to appropriate care in the community, this program reduces those risks and costs, and helps individuals begin the path to recovery, health, and self-sufficiency.

The initiative complements other efforts in Lake County to reach individuals with substance use and mental health issues, including drug courts, mental health courts, and training for first responders on the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

“Whether we’re reaching people in jail, in courts, or in the community, our goal is to help individuals get into treatment and on the path to recovery,” said Karen Notko, administrator for TASC services in Lake County.

This initiative is a partnership between TASC, the Lake County Jail, Adult Court Services, Assistant State’s Attorney, Behavioral Treatment Court Collaborative, Health Department, and Public Defender’s Office, as well as Nicasa, PADS, and many other treatment providers and community groups. It is funded by the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County.

TASC is a statewide, nonprofit organization that serves and advocates for people involved in criminal justice and child welfare systems who have mental health and substance use disorders.

Best Practices for Jail Medicaid Enrollment: TASC in Modern Healthcare Article

(Chicago) Modern Healthcare has published an article on best practices for Medicaid enrollment at jail intake, noting approaches which TASC has helped implement in Cook County and is sharing with other jurisdictions around the country.

Harris Meyer writes:

Like inmates throughout the country, most people entering the Louisville Metro Jail lack health insurance and many suffer from long-untreated chronic conditions.

At least partly as a result, some people, particularly those with serious mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction, keep getting re-arrested and returning to jail, increasing costs to taxpayers.

In Louisville, Kentucky, there are processes to sign up people for Medicaid at jail intake, as well as provide support at release for individuals with multiple needs who often cycle in and out of jail. The program is based on initiatives begun at Cook County Jail in Chicago.

In these locations and in a number of jurisdictions across the country, the aim is to increase the number of people who have Medicaid when they are released from jail, so as to improve their access to healthcare in the community and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.

…But there are tough challenges, including poor coordination between local jail authorities and state Medicaid agencies, lack of funding to hire enrollment assisters, and chaotic conditions during jail intake, said Maureen McDonnell of the Chicago-based not-for-profit Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities. In addition, there is sometimes political opposition to offering public health insurance to accused lawbreakers.

“Typically, these programs start with a motivated jail director, county commissioner or county behavioral health director who sees the writing on the wall about how many people have substance abuse and mental health conditions,” said McDonnell, who advises jail officials around the country in starting Medicaid enrollment programs. “The current national focus on mental health and substance abuse is helping a lot.”

Through these collaborative approaches, and with Medicaid coverage, people with long-untreated substance use, mental health, and other medical conditions may have new means to access healthcare services. Read the full article at modernhealthcare.com.
Modern Healthcare (MH) best practices for helping people in jail get Medicaid, including input from TASC. Source and image credit: Modern Healthcare

Modern Healthcare (MH) best practices for helping people in jail get Medicaid, including input from TASC. Source and image credit: Modern Healthcare

 

Public Support Grows for Criminal Justice Diversion Initiatives

(Chicago) – A recent poll of Illinois voters indicates strong support for criminal justice reform. More than two thirds (70 percent) agree that state prisons are overcrowded and require reform for people with non-violent offenses, and four in five (83 percent) support sending fewer individuals with low-risk, non-violent offenses to prison so that state funding can be used to keep people who have committed violent offenses incarcerated for their full sentences.

The number of people behind bars in the U.S. has grown more than 500 percent over the past four decades, and U.S. incarceration rate tops the charts. In line with public opinion, policymakers are reversing their appetite for tough-on-crime policies that have fueled record incarceration rates. In fact, criminal justice reform stands apart as one of the only issues on which individuals across political parties are unified in their support.

There also is a growing understanding of the extremely high rates of substance use and mental health disorders among people involved in the criminal justice system, and of the need to address these problems earlier in the lifespan as a critical part of criminal justice reforms, before medical and behavioral health problems become advanced, and before the often lifelong collateral consequences of a conviction block individuals’ efforts to reenter communities, lead productive lives, and avoid future criminal behavior, re-arrest, and re-incarceration.

In 2013, TASC’s Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) conducted a national survey of criminal justice diversion programs and practices, to explore the landscape of diversion at the front end of the system—by law enforcement, by prosecutors and pre-trial service agencies, and by courts. CHJ is currently conducting an Illinois survey to explore the use of diversion programs and practices at phases of justice system involvement prior to conviction and sentencing, with a special focus on those operated by prosecutors, and plans to release a report with findings and recommendations later this year.

Poll of Illinois voters shows overwhelming support for criminal justice reform. Source and image credit: U.S. Justice Action Network

Poll of Illinois voters shows overwhelming support for criminal justice reform. Source and image credit: U.S. Justice Action Network

National TASC Conference Showcases Local Diversion Programs

(Chicago) – Several criminal justice diversion programs in Illinois were showcased at the recent annual conference of National TASC, an association of programs that connect justice systems to community-based treatment.

TASC, Inc. of Illinois served as the host organization for the national conference, which took place in Chicago and drew attendees representing programs in states from North Carolina to Hawaii. One of the conference themes was the importance of diverting people with non-violent charges away from traditional criminal justice processing and into services in the community.

Although diversion is not a new concept, public opinion, health coverage brought about by Medicaid expansion, and bipartisan efforts toward criminal justice reform have propelled such initiatives to the forefront of public policy. The goals of such programs vary depending on the jurisdiction, but most aim to reduce the numbers of people going into the justice system, reduce jail stays, strengthen connections to health and supportive services in the community, and reduce recidivism.

Illinois Diversion Programs Highlighted

At the conference, held April 25-27 at the Westin Michigan Avenue, experts who have implemented front-end diversion programs in Illinois offered their experiences and strategies for developing these initiatives. Chief Eric Guenther, public safety director for the Village of Mundelein, and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim described their collaboration in implementing smart-on-crime approaches. Motivated by the dramatic increase in opioid overdoses and deaths in the area, they are leading the development of a collaborative effort to divert people with drug problems to community-based treatment rather than arrest them. Similar programs are being designed and implemented across Illinois and the country, inspired by the Gloucester, Massachusetts, Angel Program launched in 2015.

“We have been losing a lot of young people to overdose deaths all over our county. We had to come up with a new way of dealing with this [opioid] epidemic,” said Nerheim. “The vast majority of people who come into the system are going to be back with us—back in society—and we want them to be productive members. Everyone should have the opportunity for a second chance.”

Chief Guenther noted the importance of building trust between the community and law enforcement, so that community members feel comfortable coming to the police department for help. He remarked on the police department’s unique ability to engage people any time of day, any day in the year. “A person may decide at 2:00 a.m. that they want out [of addiction], and having to wait until 8:00 a.m. may mean that we lose that window.” Guenther also stressed that planning processes should include people in recovery to ensure that programming and messaging will appeal to individuals who need help.

Mark Kammerer, the alternative prosecution/sentencing unit coordinator at the Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney’s Office, described the array of programs in place to divert people out of traditional case processing, noting that his office has been operating diversion programming in some fashion since the 1970s. “We now have interventions for people with the least extensive criminal background to high-risk, high-need individuals. One size does not fit all, so we offer a continuum of interventions. The goal is to identify and screen people to get them into diversion programs sooner, rather than later, in the criminal justice system.”

TASC Vice President George Williams, who offered the conference’s opening remarks, spoke of TASC’s 40-year history in advocating for people who need help, and emphasized that clients, constituents, friends, and family members are at the heart of this work. “Everything we do in this room is for the rights, interests, health, and needs of the men and women who have come through our doors,” he said.

New Opportunities via Medicaid Expansion

“Diversion programs are surging in popularity and evolving in response to current needs,” said Laura Brookes, policy director at TASC. Introducing the panel discussion, Brookes offered that the justice system can divert many people who represent a low public safety risk to programs in the community, stemming the tide of people coming into the system at the front end and throughout it.

“Now is a particularly exciting time to be involved in this work, not only because of the broad support for much-needed reform, but also with the expansion of Medicaid in many states under the Affordable Care Act,” said Brookes. “This means that local and state governments can save justice and corrections costs by establishing connections to Medicaid-reimbursable behavioral health and medical resources in the community. These resources can help increase diversion, as justice systems become confident that many of people they are diverting will be able to access the care they need and reduce offending.”

The benefits of diversion programs were highlighted at the 2016 National TASC conference.

Benefits of diversion programs were highlighted at the 2016 National TASC conference in Chicago.