Honorees at TASC 2018 Leadership Awards Luncheon: This is Just the Beginning

(Chicago) –  TASC’s 2018 Leadership Award recipients—action-driven change agents forging new pathways within their professions—humbly echoed similar themes as they accepted their awards at the agency’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 12: Thank you, but this is just the beginning. There is much work to be done.

Bringing 250-plus guests to their feet at the Westin Michigan Avenue after their remarks, Dixon City Manager and former Police Chief Danny Langloss, Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther, and Chicago Beyond Leader in Residence Dr. Nneka Tapia each offered inspiring perspectives on bringing about a healthier, more just society.

Justice Leadership Awards

“Addiction and mental illness are two of the most critical issues facing every community,” said Langloss, who initiated the Safe Passage law enforcement deflection program in Dixon and Lee counties.

Pointing out that 50,000 people in the US lost their lives to overdose in 2016, and 72,000 more died in 2017, he urged, “This is unacceptable. This is a public health epidemic that we cannot arrest our way out of. Behind every death, there is a family. There is a son or a daughter. There is a husband or a wife. There is a mom or a dad. And I’ll tell you—if you’ve never done a death notification, where you go out and tell somebody for the first time that their loved one has died—it is something you’d never want to do. I’ve done this more than 50 times. This is being done across our country 72,000 times a year. It has to change.”

In presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Awards, TASC President Pam Rodriguez praised Langloss and Guenther for taking action to stop cycles of addiction, arrest, and incarceration. “They didn’t close their eyes to the realities in front of them. Nor did they fall back on traditional law enforcement responses to drug use. Instead, they pioneered new pathways to recovery. A better way. Rather than arresting people who have overdosed or have a drug problem, they are deflecting people to treatment.”

“Substance use disorder grabs people,” said Langloss. “This is a chronic, relapsing disease. The pathway to recovery is a process; it is not an event… As we reshape this war on drugs—this failed war on drugs—we have to take a community-based approach,” he said, invoking the need for public health officials, doctors, police, faith-based partners, and people in recovery to collaborate in deflection initiatives. “This is a smart-on-crime approach. This is one of the greatest, proactive crime-fighting opportunities that we have.”

Justice Award honoree Guenther, who co-created Lake County’s A Way Out program and is an instrumental partner in the Lake County Opioid Initiative, also lauded the value of deflection. “This is actually a smart approach to crime reduction. If we can identify portions of our population that chronically commit crimes that are associated with a number of behavioral health issues—and work at helping them with those behavioral health issues—then we are actually addressing the root cause and the true origin of crime.”

Over 23 years in law enforcement, Guenther noted that in interviewing hundreds of candidates, the response to ‘Why do you want to be a police officer?’ is invariably a version of, ‘Because I want to help people.’

“Deflection makes sense for a number of reasons,” Guenther continued. “Decreasing crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates, saving taxpayer dollars, lessening the burden on the criminal justice system. But probably most important, it reinforces for thousands of us why we said we wanted to be police officers: because we wanted to help people. Not some people. All people.”

He implored attendees to hold public officials accountable for looking at their professions and figuring out better ways to be successful. “Is that not my job?” he asked. “Reform to me is an opportunity for me to change my profession and to give back to the people that I swore I would help.”

Together with TASC, Chiefs Guenther and Langloss spearheaded Senate Bill 3023, which authorizes and encourages the implementation of pre-arrest diversion programs across Illinois. The first bill of its kind in the country, it was signed into law in August.

Public Voice Leadership Award

“When it comes to understanding the impact of addiction and trauma on families, and the need for comprehensive responses, few people have the depth of understanding and compassion that our Public Voice Leadership honoree has,” Rodriguez said in introducing TASC’s 2018 Public Voice Leadership Award. “Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia is a true role model when it comes to cross-systems collaboration.”

As executive director at the Cook County Department of Corrections, Tapia and her team were critical partners in bringing the Supportive Release Center into being. Her singular expertise as both a psychologist and corrections executive has made her a recognized and passionate advocate for mental wellness, criminal justice reform, and interventions for youth. Today she is working with Chicago Beyond to advance trauma-informed care for young people impacted by violence and parental incarceration, in order to help them achieve their full potential.

“When I first learned that I was receiving the Public Voice Leadership Award, I started to think about the thousands of Chicago voices that are muted, the thousands of Chicago voices that we don’t allow ourselves to hear,” offered Tapia as she accepted her award. “These are the mothers and the fathers and the sons and daughters that end up in our criminal justice system, that end up in our emergency rooms, and that end up on a 911 call. And then I started to think, what would it look like—what would Chicago look like—if we heard those voices before they ended up in our criminal justice system, before they ended up in our emergency rooms, and before they ended up on our 911 calls? Can you imagine what Chicago would look like? Our emergency rooms would be less crowded, our jails would have more beds than people, our kids would be able to play without having to hear gunshots. That’s the world that we look forward to.”

During Tapia’s tenure at the Cook County Jail, she was instrumental in creating programs that supported pathways to health in the community and reduced recidivism. “At one point in my career, Cook County Jail had 10,000 inmates. When I left, we had less than 6,000,” she said. Now as a leader in residence at Chicago Beyond, “and with the support of wonderful organizations like TASC and so many others, we can bring this cycle of incarceration to an end,” Tapia said. “When our youth are healed, our community will be healed. But until that happens, it is our collective responsibility to raise our voice.”

Special Announcements and Acknowledgments

The formal luncheon program concluded with the surprise announcement of a major gift from 2016 Public Voice honoree John Greene and his wife, Jean Greene. Moved by TASC’s work and by their affection for Peter Palanca, who retired in 2017 as TASC’s executive vice president and COO, they were on hand to hear Rodriguez make the announcement:  “I am thrilled and grateful to announce the creation of the Peter Palanca Endowment Fund at TASC.”

Thanking TASC’s supporters, partners, board members, and staff, Rodriguez also welcomed four past TASC Leadership Award Recipients in attendance: TASC founder Melody Heaps (2010), retired WGN news anchor Robert Jordan (2013), State Senator Mattie Hunter (2014); and Greene. In addition to Hunter, other elected officials at the luncheon included State Senator Melinda Bush, State Rep. LaShawn Ford, and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim.

TASC Board Chair Michelle Montgomery opened the program with gratitude for TASC’s supporters, including the event’s elite sponsor, Alkermes; select sponsors Gateway Foundation and William Blair; and Friend of TASC sponsors First Midwest Bank, Healthcare Alternative Systems, Inc., Indivior, Inc., Janssen Neuroscience, and Rosecrance. She also thanked John Zielinski, chair of TASC’s event committee and vice chair of TASC’s board of directors, along with event committee members Glenn Blackmon, Robin Fandrei, DeAnna Jones, and Tracy Thompson.

Emphasizing the importance of TASC’s mission, she said, “Incarceration affects not just the individual, but it severely disrupts whole families and multiple generations, devastating entire communities. As I speak, we are seeing this both in Illinois and across the nation. That’s why I believe so strongly in TASC’s work in disrupting these cycles.

2018 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon (l. to r.): Dr. Nneka Tapia, Public Voice Award honoree; Pam Rodriguez, TASC president; Chief Eric Guenther, Justice Award honoree; Danny Langloss, Justice Award honoree. Photo by Uk Studio, Inc.

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Health and Justice Reforms on the Ballot: 2018 Midterm Election Results

(Chicago) – Several criminal justice initiatives advanced during the 2018 midterm elections, marking notable progress in justice reform.

In Florida, for example, voters approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to people—1.4 million—who have completed serving the terms of their sentences, including probation and parole, for most felony offenses. Florida voters also approved Amendment 11, which allows the state’s legislature to enact sentencing reforms that apply retroactively.

In Colorado, voters approved a ballot measure which removes language from the state Constitution that allows slavery and involuntary servitude to be used as punishment for crime. And in Louisiana, voters approved a constitutional change requiring unanimous juries for all felony convictions, which means that Oregon will soon be the only remaining state that allows juries that aren’t unanimous to send people to prison.

Medicaid expansion was also on the ballot in multiple states. Voters in Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska supported measures to expand Medicaid, meaning 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, have now adopted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Several groups have published overviews of justice- and health-related results from the elections:

While the advancement of these justice reform initiatives is encouraging, there is more to be done.

“We are still far from the finish line in achieving comprehensive justice reform, but these are promising advances,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

For example, a recent investigative report critiques for-profit diversion programs in Illinois. Diversion programs are intended to divert eligible individuals who would have otherwise been arrested, charged, or incarcerated, away from the justice system and into appropriate community-based mental health or substance use treatment. However, without careful oversight, safeguards, and appropriate parameters, programs can have negative consequences.

“When programs with the stated purpose of diverting people away from the system actually draw more people into it, that’s ‘net widening,’” said Rodriguez. “This can occur, for instance, when people whose cases would have eventually been dropped are instead placed under community supervision as part of a ‘diversion’ program. But they may be charged large and unwarranted participation fees, and when they predictably fail to pay, they may be sent to jail or prison as a penalty. Obviously, scenarios like this run absolutely counter to the purpose of diversion programs.”

In a recent opinion piece, author and columnist Michelle Alexander also urged caution, writing that many current justice reforms “contain the seeds of the next generation of racial and social control,” including an increasing reliance on electronic monitoring.

“We must be thoughtful and purposeful in our reform efforts, and vigilant in guarding against unintended consequences and addressing entrenched disparities,” said Rodriguez. “Voter support for justice reforms and Medicaid expansion should serve as a catalyst in the continued pursuit of healthier and more just communities.”