Revision of Automatic Transfer Law Achieves Common Cause for Illinois Juvenile Justice Reform

OP-ED: During the 2015 spring legislative session, bi-partisan cooperation and compromise led to agreed upon changes to the Illinois criminal code, creating a fairer and more effective justice system for youth.

Accomplishments include a new reform, House Bill 3718, sponsored by State Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), which addresses one of the most critical issues in juvenile court—the treatment of children as adults in court.

In early August, Governor Bruce Rauner signed this bill into law, eliminating the automatic transfer of juvenile cases based solely on charges brought against them, and expanding judicial discretion to try juvenile cases in juvenile courts.

The new mandate, an initiative of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, expands the requirement of review by a juvenile court judge to examine relevant factors before transferring some cases to adult court. Specifically, the law, which takes effect on January 1, 2016, requires a juvenile court hearing in all cases involving children 15 and younger and in cases of older youth charged with particular crimes.

Currently, a prosecutor can automatically transfer a child to adult court—with no appearance before a juvenile court judge required—simply based on the charge lodged against them. As of January 1, for all children under 16, an individual review of the circumstances of the case as well as consideration of the rehabilitative services available in the juvenile court system will be required.

The automatic court transfer law has disproportionately affected children of color.

According to a report released by the Juvenile Justice Initiative, between 2010 and 2014, 580 children were transferred to adult court in Cook County, and of those, only 4 were white. In addition, 6-16 percent of the children transferred were later re-charged with a lesser offense that would have triggered no automatic transfer, but they remained in adult court. An earlier version of the report indicated that of the 257 children transferred between 2010 and 2012, more half of those convicted were either recharged before trial or plea or eventually found guilty of lesser offenses.

Moreover, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of research included a study finding that children tried in adult court had 34 percent more re-arrests than their counterparts tried in juvenile court, and other studies supported this finding. Further, the report indicated that strengthened transfer laws are “counterproductive to reducing juvenile violence and enhancing public safety.”

The reforms authorized by the legislature and approved by the Governor are in much better alignment with these findings.

By reducing the scope of the automatic transfer law, a legal relic of the 1980s, the Governor and lawmakers have endorsed the merit of judicial review and discretion on child transfer to adult court while preserving the authority to transfer a child and, in some instances, will still allow automatic transfer.

Next year, juvenile judges will individually consider transfer decisions for children ages 15-17 who are charged with armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and unlawful use of a weapon on school grounds. Children age 15 and younger charged with any crime will be entitled to judicial review. Youth ages 16-17 charged with serious offenses like murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated battery with a firearm will still be automatically transferred to adult court.

The new law seeks to restore some sense of legal decency and justice in the Illinois juvenile justice system that has been for far too long operating on automatic pilot when it came to decisions that bore on the future of an entire generation of principally African-American children.

By taking this critical step, the Governor and the legislature have jointly determined that in the Illinois juvenile justice system, the priority must be fairness.

Pam Rodriguez, president and CEO of TASC, is a member of the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Chicago, Rockford, and GSU Events Shine Spotlight on Recovery

(Chicago)— In unison with several hundred recovery advocates in Chicago, Rockford, and University Park, TASC celebrated Recovery Month with rallies, walks, and outdoor celebrations.

Observed each year in September, Recovery Month recognizes that millions of people across the country can and do recover from substance use and mental health disorders. Sponsored nationally by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the 2015 observance featured more than 1,000 local events across the country.

In Illinois, through the annual Recovery Walk at Governors State University (GSU), Outside the Walls celebration in Chicago, and Rally for Recovery in Rockford, TASC clients, staff, friends, and colleagues shared community resources and elevated hopes and triumphs of recovery.

“Every single one of us has been affected by substance use disorders, whether through personal experience or through knowing a friend, a family member, a colleague, or a neighbor,” said TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca, who emceed the September 12 event at GSU. “Through our work together, we can help more people know and experience the reality that recovery is possible.”

The Outside the Walls event also was an inspiring success, with inclement weather the day before giving way to a bright celebration on September 19. “What a day!” remarked Rev. Tommie Johnson, TASC recovery support services coordinator, who leads the annual event. “There was a great turnout, a large crowd, and absolutely top-shelf entertainment… So many clients and their children remarked how they were moved, not only emotionally, but motivated to action!”

Rockford’s Recovery Rally on the Rock on September 26 drew impressive attendance as well, along with coverage from the Rockford Register-Star, WIFR, and WREX.

“The event keeps growing every year,” said TASC case manager Kate Craig, who co-organized the event in Rockford. “It’s grown from 35 people when it first started in 2009, to the huge support system that it is today.”

The 2015 theme for Recovery Month, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Visible, Vocal, Valuable!” was selected to highlight the value of educating, mentoring, and helping others in the recovery journey.

“For those who have experienced substance use disorders, we know that there are many paths of support that can make a life-saving difference—for people’s health, for their homes, for their families and communities,” said Palanca. “We thank all our event sponsors and supporters for partnership in this work. Together, we can realize the promise of recovery.” 

Members of TASC team at GSU Recovery Walk: (left to right) Ryan Dillon, Debra Hammer, Lindsey Baumgartner, Cassy Lamon, Charles Sanders, and Latina McMillan.

Members of TASC team at the September 12 Recovery Walk at Governors State University: (left to right) Ryan Dillon, Debra Hammer, Lindsey Baumgartner, Cassy Lamon, Charles Sanders, and Latina McMillan.

The September 19 Outside the Walls event in Chicago was a celebration of youth, hope, and life.

The September 19 Outside the Walls event in Chicago was a celebration of youth, hope, and life.

Friends and families enjoyed food and music at the 7th Annual Recovery Rally on the Rock in Rockford on September 26.

Friends and families enjoyed food and music at the 7th Annual Recovery Rally on the Rock in Rockford on September 26.

TASC provides informational resources at Recovery Month events each year.

TASC offers resources and information to help individuals and families seeking recovery.




Faith Leaders to Gather in Chicago Heights for Training on Addiction and Recovery

(Chicago Heights) – Clergy and other faith leaders who have seen the impact of substance use in families and communities will have the opportunity to learn about pathways to recovery at a special one-day training event in Chicago Heights on October 1.

Understanding Addiction and Supporting Recovery is a national training delivered by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) Clergy Education and Training Project™.

The event will be hosted and supported by the City of Chicago Heights and South Suburban Family Wellness Alliance (SSFWA), with additional support from Franciscan St. James Health.

“This will be an energizing and unique summit for clergy and other faith leaders,” said TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca, who serves as a member of the SSFWA and has been a leader in bringing the national training to Illinois. “It has received high praise from past participants, and we are excited that it will be held in Chicago Heights on Thursday.”

Presenters will include Sis Wenger, president and CEO of NACoA; Al Orsello, president and CEO of The Prevention Partnership; and the Rev. Tommie Johnson, recovery support services coordinator for TASC.

Open to all faith leaders in the south suburbs and surrounding areas, the training and curriculum materials are offered to faith leaders free of charge, thanks to a Drug-Free Communities grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). There is a nominal $15 cost to cover lunch.

The training is offered to help leaders in the faith community un­derstand more clearly the family and spiritual problems related to addiction and to provide tools and strategies to assist families. Participants will learn and share knowledge about effective prevention, intervention, and recovery tools, and promote successful, collaborative interfaith community partnerships.

The event will take place at the Chicago Heights Professional Office Building, 30 E. 15th Street, on October 1 from 8:30 AM–3 PM. Advance registration is required. To register, please call TASC Administrator and SSFWA Project Director Alisa Montgomery-Webb at 312-203-9674.

Using Technology to Improve Rural Health Access

(Edwardsville, Illinois) — In rural areas, long drives to addiction treatment facilities are common. For individuals who lack transportation or may temporarily have lost the right to drive, the inability to get to a treatment program can be a substantial barrier to recovery. In 2011, funding from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helped launch the Illinois Technology Enhancements for Coordinated Health (TECH) Care pilot program in Illinois’ Fourth Judicial Circuit.

The Illinois TECH Care program used technology to engage justice-involved adults in Clinton, Fayette, and Marion counties, resulting in a streamlined care coordination system and increased client access to services. As an infrastructure development program, it piloted the use of video conferencing, automated wellness calls, and electronically shared data to respond to significant health and communication gaps for women and men with substance use and/or co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders involved in the criminal justice system.

To launch the program, TASC collaborated with Community Resource Center as a rural treatment provider, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as an external program evaluator, and court and probation system partners, with TASC responsible for overall program implementation, as well as technology integration, training, and case management.

“The program allowed us to schedule assessments via video, versus trying to schedule in person with long distances,” said Craig Cooper, who directs operations for TASC in 101 Illinois counties, and who oversaw clinical service delivery for the pilot. “The quicker you can respond to a client in need and get that level of engagement, the better.”

In addition to supporting improved behavioral health outcomes, telehealth can lower treatment costs by saving the costs of driving and staff time. Treatment, justice, and community service partners also benefit from the new technological infrastructure, which allows the sharing of health information among their sites and builds a sustainable, data-informed system of care for populations that are historically difficult to engage.

“Being able to provide services through videoconferencing or telehealth links individuals to services they might not receive otherwise in a rural area,” said Georgianne Broughton, executive director of Community Resource Center, which provides behavioral healthcare treatment, prevention and educational services. “Using technology positively to affect change in how we deliver services has been a benefit to our communities in rural Illinois.”

Along with its reputation for advocacy and facilitating access to and retention in treatment, perhaps less well-known is TASC’s history of technology innovation, as in the Illinois TECH Care program.

“TASC has always promoted the effective use of technology for social services,” said Marina Uk, director of Management Information Services at TASC, who served as the project director and led all technical aspects and implementation of Illinois TECH Care. The integration of technology across numerous TASC programs over many years has allowed for more efficient data collection, which in turn supports program analysis and ongoing service improvement.

As part of SAMHSA’s first cohort of Targeted Capacity Expansion – Technology Assisted Care (TCE-TAC) grantees to build a telehealth program to support the delivery of behavioral health services, TASC and Illinois serve as an example of how the innovative use of technology, along with coordinated implementation, can improve community health and enhance client engagement in care coordination activities. As elements of the pilot program are rolled out across Illinois, learning and knowledge will help counties plan for and integrate similar health information technologies successfully.

TASC President Appointed to Governor Rauner’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission

(Springfield) – TASC President Pam Rodriguez has been appointed to Governor Bruce Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Established by the Governor’s executive order in February, the new Commission will examine all aspects of Illinois’ criminal justice system, sentencing practices, community supervision, and the use of alternatives to incarceration.

Twenty-eight members were named to the Commission, including lawmakers, researchers, nonprofit leaders, and criminal justice experts. Former U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton, who was named in January to serve as the state’s public safety director, will chair the Commission.

A primary goal of the Commission is to issue recommendations to reduce the population of the state’s crowded prisons by 25 percent within 10 years.

“With the state’s leadership and all of us working together, I feel confident that we can achieve that goal sooner,” said Rodriguez, a projection she echoed in an interview with WICS in Springfield on Wednesday.

“We know what works,” she said. “We have an opportunity to implement evidence-based alternatives to incarceration on a far broader scale, and at the same time achieve better results in terms of cost savings and reduced recidivism.”

The Commission will issue its initial findings and recommendations to the Governor by July 1, and a final report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 31, 2015.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez, named to Governor Rauner's criminal justice reform commission, is interviewed by WICS Newschannel 20 at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez, named to Governor Rauner’s criminal justice reform commission, is interviewed by WICS Newschannel 20 at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield.


TASC VP George Williams Receives 7th Congressional District Heroes Award

(Chicago) – TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams was recognized by Illinois’ 7th Congressional District on February 8 for his service in the U.S. Armed Forces and as a community advocate.

At the awards ceremony in celebration of today’s heroes, Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL7) presented the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition to Williams for “outstanding and invaluable service to the community.”

As a U.S. Army veteran, Williams also has earned the National Defense Service Medal for his honorable military service.

The 7th Congressional District awards event, held at Clair Christian United Methodist Church in Chicago, also recognized other retired and active military personnel, police, firefighters, and first responders dedicated to community service and safety.

Williams joined TASC in 1990 and has held successive roles administering programs and promoting policies that address health needs and racial disparities among justice populations. Along with his responsibilities at TASC, Williams is co-chair of Congressman Davis’ Criminal Justice Reform Committee and Substance Abuse Advisory Committee. He also is a member of the Congressman’s committees on AIDS/HIV, Mental Health, and Public Safety.

Throughout his career, Williams has presented at numerous national and international conferences on issues related to criminal justice and addiction recovery. In 2012 he received an honorary Ph.D. in Urban Studies from IPAE-Midwest Bible College.

Congressman Danny Davis (left) honors TASC Vice President George Williams for outstanding service to the community.

Congressman Danny Davis (left) honors TASC Vice President George Williams for outstanding service to the community.


Governor Rauner Boosts Criminal Justice Reform; Solutions Include Diversion and Alternatives to Incarceration

At the signing of executive order establishing criminal justice commission, Governor Rauner greets Mike Torchia, director of Court Services for Sangamon County Adult Probation.  (Photo by TASC.)

Governor Bruce Rauner (right) greeted Mike Torchia, director of Court Services for Sangamon County Adult Probation, at the February 11 signing of an executive order establishing a criminal justice reform commission. (Photo by TASC.)

OP-ED: Governor Bruce Rauner signed an executive order on Wednesday to establish the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. Given that Illinois’ prison population has grown by 700 percent in the past 40 years, the commission will make recommendations to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent.

At the same time, the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee, created last May and chaired by State Representative Michael J. Zalewski (D-23) and State Senator Michael Noland (D-22), recognizes the need to reduce incarceration of individuals with non-violent offenses and those with mental illness and addiction.

These initiatives by the Governor’s office and the General Assembly are critical and timely. They can be accelerated by leveraging proven solutions already working in Illinois.

First, sound reforms must recognize that the Illinois prison system is one of largest under-funded health operations in the country. Half of adults in prison have a mental health problem, and two thirds of adults in jail and prison have a substance use disorder requiring intervention. Many have co-occurring conditions. However, failed policies of the past 40 years have favored incarceration over treatment, driving prison and jail crowding and the clogging of courts.

Second, to slow the flood of non-violent offenders who churn through Illinois prisons, prosecutors and judges across Illinois must have means to systematically identify and divert non-violent defendants who have substance use or mental health conditions out of the justice system and into licensed treatment programs in the community.

More than 31,000 people were admitted to Illinois prisons in FY 13 (the most recently published data), with an estimated 57 percent sentenced for non-violent offenses eligible for diversion. Meanwhile, Illinois is paying $21,000 per year to incarcerate each of these men and women, when treatment and case management are only one-fifth that cost. No Entry diversion policies and programs—from “drug schools” to mandated community-based treatment with case management—reduce recidivism, save system and taxpayer costs, and address the behavioral health and social issues that often contribute to criminal behavior.

Last year, for example, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) diverted more than 2,000 non-violent defendants away from prison and into supervised drug treatment in the community, saving the State of Illinois $35 million.

We know what works. To achieve real reform and cost savings, Illinois must bring these proven approaches to scale.

Pamela F. Rodriguez

President & CEO

TASC, Inc.