2015 Urban Labs Innovation Challenge Winners: TASC, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Heartland Alliance Earn Grant for Supportive Release Center

(Chicago) – The University of Chicago announced the winners of the Urban Labs 2015 Innovation Challenge grants on October 12, including a $1M grant to TASC, the Heartland Alliance, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to support people with mental illness as they are released from the Cook County Jail.

Timothy Knowles, the Pritzker Director of Urban Labs, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the announcement during a Chicago Ideas Week event, which included a panel discussion with WomenOnCall.org founder and President Margot Pritzker, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and host Cheryl Corley of NPR.

The 2015 Urban Labs Innovation Challenge focused on the areas of health, poverty, and energy and the environment. Advisory committees comprising civic leaders, practitioners, funders, and academic experts selected the grant winners from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

The grant will enable the launch of a Supportive Release Center to help individuals with mental illness transition to services in their communities following their release from the Cook County Jail. It also will include rigorous evaluation—conducted by the Health Lab—to empirically examine outcomes and better inform practitioners and policymakers about its effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and potential scalability in the long run.

“We are honored to partner with the University of Chicago Urban Labs, Heartland Alliance, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to develop solutions to the issues faced by people with mental illness who are leaving the jail,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “This will help us create a safe, supportive environment to facilitate access to care. The project also will be closely evaluated, using a random controlled research design, so that it has the potential to become an evidence-based practice that could be replicated nationwide.”

The Urban Labs’ collaborative approach recognizes that many long-term challenges in cities are related, and require unified responses. Public-private partnerships are central to the approach of the project, and in fact Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois already has made a $50,000 commitment toward the Supportive Release Center.

The Cook County Jail admits approximately 100,000 men and women annually. Among the average daily population of 9,000, 20 to 30 percent are estimated to have a mental illness.

The project builds upon other collaborative strategies to improve access to health care for people leaving the jail. These aligned and reinforcing efforts include the Justice and Health Initiative funded by The Chicago Community Trust, the Justice Advisory Council, and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, as well as the planning and pilot project funded by the Michael Reese Health Trust, and the service network innovation collaborative funded by the Polk Bros. Foundation.

For additional coverage of the announcement, see articles in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Inno, DNAChicago, UChicagoNews, and social media posts at #InnovationChallenge.

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