2015 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon to Honor Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Entrepreneur Bill O’Donnell

(Chicago) – With a commitment to reducing incarceration and increasing opportunities for recovery, TASC will honor two leading voices in these movements at the agency’s 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 10.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart will receive TASC’s 2015 Justice Leadership Award and entrepreneur and recovery advocate William T. O’Donnell, Jr. will receive the agency’s 2015 Public Voice Leadership Award.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois will serve as the presenting sponsor of this year’s event, which supports TASC’s services across Illinois.

Dart is a national leader in calling for an end to the over-incarceration of people with mental health and substance use problems, advocating instead for available treatment and supports in the community.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, TASC's 2015 Justice Leadership Award Honoree

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, TASC’s 2015 Justice Leadership Award Honoree.

Elected sheriff in 2006, Dart is responsible for the nation’s largest single site jail, which daily detains thousands of individuals who have mental health and substance use disorders. Until a few years ago, nine out of 10 jail detainees lacked healthcare coverage, thereby significantly hindering their access to community-based treatment. When Medicaid eligibility was expanded in 2013 to cover previously uninsured adults, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with TASC and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, created processes for all individuals coming through the jail to apply for coverage. Since 2013, more than 25,000 people who have come through the Cook County Jail have applied for healthcare coverage, increasing their opportunities to access community-based care before they reach the justice system.

Dart continues to promote collaborative, community-based partnerships and linkages to care for people with complex health issues. Most recently, the sheriff’s office, along with TASC and Heartland Alliance, received a $1M grant from the University of Chicago Urban Labs to develop a Supportive Release Center for people with mental health issues who are exiting the jail.

“Sheriff Dart understands that the criminal justice system was never designed to be a health care provider,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “We support and applaud his commitment to creating more sensible, effective, and dignified societal responses to behavioral health problems.”

Entrepreneur Bill O'Donnell, TASC's 2015 Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree

Entrepreneur Bill O’Donnell, TASC’s 2015 Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree.

Creating pathways to recovery has been the longtime mission of Bill O’Donnell, who will receive TASC’s Public Voice Leadership Award. A native of Chicago, O’Donnell resides in Wilmette and is managing director of ODE, LLC, an investment and development firm. He began his career with Bally Manufacturing and quickly ascended the corporate ladder, but addiction took its toll. O’Donnell’s subsequent personal journey and rejuvenation in recovery, combined with his business development expertise, led him to found Sierra Tucson in 1983, which he built into a world renowned addiction treatment center and dually licensed psychiatric hospital.

In 1995, O’Donnell also founded Miraval Resort, which has consistently received the highest ratings by industry publications. Along with a being a prominent business leader, he remains a voice for others who struggle with addiction, and also an advocate for family involvement in the treatment and recovery process.

“We are thrilled to be able to recognize Bill as a renowned leader in the treatment field,” said TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca. “From the outset of his work in the field, he understood that addiction is far beyond an individual struggle; it’s a family disease too. By creating clinical programs that include family members in the process, he not only has helped countless people achieve and maintain recovery, but he has helped families become stronger and healthier as well.”

TASC’s 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon will take place at the Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago on Thursday, December 10 from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. Registration is requested by November 19. For sponsorship opportunities and additional information, please click here.

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.

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.