Leaders in Transforming Health and Justice Recognized at TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards Luncheon

(Chicago) – Nearly 300 guests attended TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago on December 14 to honor Jessica Hulsey Nickel and Howard A. Peters III, respected champions of health and justice reforms.

Speakers shared inspiring tributes and echoed the importance of uplifting people who need help, and creating a society where fairness and access to health are the norms.

“I know firsthand the impact that substance abuse can have on individuals’ lives and the collateral damage that can occur among families when a loved one has the illness of addiction,” said TASC Board Vice Chair and Event Committee Chair John Zielinski in opening the event at the Westin Michigan Avenue. “I also know and believe in the importance of second chances. People can and do recover.”

TASC Board Chair Michelle Montgomery spoke of the importance of TASC’s work in diverting people who have with underlying substance use or mental health problems away from the justice system, and instead into treatment and other services in the community. She emphasized the need to address racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, where people of color are more likely to be arrested, to be offered a plea that includes prison time, and more likely to serve longer sentences than white Americans who commit the same offenses.

“This is devastating, and it is wrong,” said Montgomery. “We know that once an individual comes into contact with the justice system, it becomes exponentially harder to recover.

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

Howard Peters Accepts TASC’s 2017 Justice Leadership Award

With a mission of addressing these inequities, TASC presents its Justice Leadership Award each year to a leader who has demonstrated a commitment to creating fairer, more equitable systems of justice.

With a long career of service leadership, including as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and later as the first secretary of what became the Illinois Department of Human Services, Howard Peters, TASC’s 2017 Justice Leadership honoree, “has the perspective and vision of a leader who has worked on all sides of the issues we address, from criminal justice to human services to healthcare,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting the award.

It was under Peters’ leadership of IDOC in the early 1990s that TASC began to offer pre- and post-release case management services for individuals leaving certain state prisons in Illinois, noted Rodriguez. Later, as the head of DHS, he oversaw all state-administered human services, including substance use and mental health, employment programs, youth services, and other programs that address poverty.

“He understands the interconnection of all these issues, and how the solutions to problems need to be comprehensive and inclusive,” said Rodriguez, who served alongside Peters on the recent Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. “When he would speak, he would change the conversation. He would ask questions that would cause people to think differently and strategize in new ways… His steady voice, deep compassion, and consistent leadership are part of what shape the criminal justice reforms happening in Illinois today.”

In accepting TASC’s award, Peters gave special credit those who shaped his early years, and who instilled in him a sense of obligation to do good in the world.

“Whatever are our accomplishments, no matter how grand or modest, they aren’t ours alone,” he said, sharing stories of how he was influenced and inspired by his mother, his grandmother, an influential second grade teacher, an inspiring college mentor, and his wife of 50 years, Beverly Peters.

“We are obligated to serve, we are obligated to support good work,” he said. “And that is why I am proud today to be in this room with you—because you are engaged in important work, you are supporting work that will determine whether children across Illinois will survive… and how well they will survive, and whether we will have a society in which we can take pride.”

Jessica Nickel Accepts TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Leadership Award

Creating such a society is also the life’s work of Jessica Nickel, TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Award Honoree and founder of the national Addiction Policy Forum.

Nickel played a critical leadership role in shaping and advancing federal legislation to improve justice and support recovery, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which supports a wide range of responses to addiction, including criminal justice diversion initiatives, and the Second Chance Act, which has transformed the landscape of reentry programs across the country since it was signed into law in 2008.

“I have known Jessica for more than a decade, and from the start, she impressed me with her sense of urgency, her deep commitment, and her unwavering belief that we can – and must – give hope and help to families that are dealing with addiction,” said Rodriguez.

In accepting the award, Nickel noted that the Second Chance Act, co-sponsored by Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis and Ohio Congressman (now Senator) Rob Portman, came about with the intent to re-envision how people reenter the community after jail and prison. Through this work, Nickel was introduced to TASC leaders Rodriguez, then vice president of TASC; TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams; and Melody Heaps, then president (now retired) of TASC.

“I’m proud of that work, and grateful and proud of the cooperation with TASC,” said Nickel.

Modeling this collaborative model of engagement that propelled the ongoing success of the Second Chance Act, Nickel is dedicated to changing the way society responds to addiction.

“Let’s re-envision how we respond to addiction in this country,” said Nickel. “Instead of playing whack-a-mole with one drug against the other… or playing that sort of favorite child of which response we’re going to work on—treatment or prevention or recovery or criminal justice—let’s put our heads together and think of something different.”

With this commitment, Nickel has assembled leading experts who understand addiction as a public health issue, and, in a short time, has built a strong and growing coalition of families, advocates, policymakers, community leaders, and corporations who share in this commitment.

“Through her voice, her organizing ability, her passion, and her impressive, first-hand knowledge of how to make major policy changes happen, Jessica is helping communities across the country make strides against addiction and its consequences. She’s bringing forth practical solutions… to help families and communities that want to know what works and what they can do,” said Rodriguez.

Among the luncheon guests were three past TASC Leadership Award recipients: retired WGN News Anchor Robert Jordan (2013 Public Voice Leadership Award), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (2011 Public Voice Leadership Award), and Heaps (2010 Justice Leadership Award), who founded TASC as an Illinois nonprofit organization in 1976.

Also recognized were TASC’s 2017 event sponsors: elite sponsor Alkermes; select sponsors: John Greene and William Blair; and friend of TASC sponsors Yes Lifecycle Marketing, Gateway, BMO Harris Bank, HAS, Janssen, Meridian Health, and Rosecrance; with thanks also to numerous advocate sponsors, community sponsors, and raffle prize donors.

2017 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon — Back row (l. to r.): Sue Thau, Toni Preckwinkle, Jessica Nickel, Pam Rodriguez. Front row: Howard Peters IV, Howard Peters III, Beverly Peters. (Photo by Uk Studio, Inc.)


Addiction Policy Forum Announces New Initiatives and Partnerships to Address the Opioid Crisis

(Chicago) — The Addiction Policy Forum, of which TASC is a national partner, has announced several new initiatives to help families in the United States struggling with opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. The programs put in motion key elements of the organization’s multi-year plan announced in October, which offers a comprehensive approach to addressing the growing opioid epidemic.

The Addiction Policy Forum is led by Jessica Hulsey Nickel, who will receive TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Leadership Award at TASC’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 14.

“The Addiction Policy Forum is making important progress in addressing the disease of addiction,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “A multi-faceted approach is needed for this complex challenge we face as a country. We look forward to working with the Forum on evidence-based programs that aim to improve the criminal justice response to substance use disorders.”

As active partners in the Forum since its inception in 2015, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice offer practical experience and expertise in criminal justice diversion and reentry strategies, while also promoting innovative programs that are making a difference in communities across the country.

“We hear all too often that families and community leaders don’t know where to turn for services that can help loved ones who are in crisis – or prevent the crisis from happening in the first place,” said Nickel, president and chief executive officer of the Addiction Policy Forum. “By working closely to families and experts in the field, we’re creating localized resources and evidence-based tools that will make a real difference in addressing substance use disorders. We are grateful to all of our partner organizations for their ongoing commitment to this important issue.”

The Addiction Policy Forum represents a diverse partnership of organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders committed to working together to elevate awareness around addiction, and to improve programs and policy through a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, recovery, and criminal justice reform.

National Public Health Emergency Declared in Face of Opioid Crisis; TASC and Partners Collaborating to Offer Solutions and Strategies

(Chicago) – Drug overdoses killed more than 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an average of 175 people per day.

On October 26, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, “directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.”

In his announcement, the President indicated that a new policy would overcome the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion that disallows Medicaid payment for certain services at substance use disorder treatment facilities that have more than 16 beds. He also discussed measures to confront illegal drug trafficking, improve safe prescribing practices, and develop non-addictive painkillers.

No requests for federal funding were attached to the announcement.

“What’s important for people to know is that, with funding, there are solutions that can be brought to bear on this crisis,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “From Chicago to Rockford to the Metro-East region of Illinois, and from Maryland to Ohio, we have been working closely with communities severely affected by this crisis. We are finding and delivering solutions together.”

Nationally, the Addiction Policy Forum, of which TASC is a partner, shares innovative approaches happening in communities across the country, from home-based treatment to family recovery initiatives. Earlier this week, APF shared eight priorities to address addiction in the United States, from helping families in crisis to expanding treatment access to reframing criminal justice.

Collaborative Solutions and Strategies for Justice Systems

Opioid use disorders are highly prevalent among criminal justice populations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Furthermore, a Washington State study showed that the risk of dying within the first two weeks of release from prison are 12 times higher than for other state residents, with overdose being the leading cause of death.

Working with expert researchers, justice leaders, and practitioners across the country, the Center for Health and Justice at TASC has developed collaborative opioid response strategies and solutions for all points in the justice system, beginning with law enforcement and through to parole.

“As first responders, law enforcement officers often are on the front lines of the epidemic. Not only can they carry naloxone to revive individuals who have overdosed, but can save a lives again by placing people in treatment instead of arresting them,” said Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC.

“When police, treatment, and communities work together, there’s an array of public health responses that can happen pre-arrest, before people enter the justice system.”

To this end, TASC is a founding partner in the Policy, Treatment, and Community (PTAC) Collaborative, whose mission is to increase health and public safety by widening community and behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. Sharing research and information on robust partnerships to confront the opioid crisis in local jurisdictions, the PTAC Collaborative will hold its inaugural conference on pre-arrest diversion in March 2018.

TASC’s Center for Health and Justice also has worked with partners to develop collaborative responses for jails, courts, and reentry phases of the justice system, as well as tools and strategies that span the continuum, including rapid assessment and treatment capacity expansion.

Additionally, the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence released a fact sheet earlier this week on the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in the justice system. TASC participated in the expert panel cited in the report.

“Families and communities are hurting,” said Rodriguez. “We’re joining forces with policymakers, justice leaders, and practitioners to help people and communities get the services they need. We need to keep people alive.”

To learn more, visit the Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) at TASC, or contact Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at CHJ.

Op-Ed by TASC President: Cook County State’s Attorney Report “Bold and Refreshing”

The new data report issued by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is a bold and refreshing step toward transparency in government and criminal justice reform. For the lead prosecutor of a major county to offer such a wealth of useful and important information is practically unheard of anywhere in the country.

The report offers a snapshot of who is coming into the justice system and how cases are processed. By presenting data on more than 30,000 cases—including breakdowns of offense charges, case dispositions, sentences, and demographic information—the report offers a trove of vital information that will help inform and shape future policy and program directions. 

We must also mention the leading role the State’s Attorney’s Office takes in diverting people out of the system who need not be in it.

Working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) helped divert more than 3,000 men and women out of the front end of the justice system last year through the Cook County Deferred Prosecution Program and First-Time Offender Drug Diversion Program. In each of these programs, individuals volunteer to participate in intensive services or classes, and may be eligible to have their charges dropped or expunged once they successfully complete the program requirements. 

These and similar alternative prosecution programs help relieve pressure on the justice system, save taxpayer dollars, and often give participants the opportunity to address their behavior and avoid further entanglement with the justice system.

We applaud Kim Foxx for her leadership, and are proud to work with her office to advance and accelerate efforts towards a better system of justice.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez

Pamela F. Rodriguez is president and CEO of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC, Inc.) and a member of Governor Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Leading the Movement Toward Diversion as a First Response: Building Connections to Treatment at the Front End of the Justice System

Below is an excerpt from TASC’s semi-annual News & Views. The current issue includes articles on pre-arrest, prosecutorial, and jail release interventions for people who have substance use and mental health conditions.

(Chicago) — A recent criminal justice trend is gaining traction. It has potential not only to help curb the devastation that the opioid epidemic is causing in communities across the nation, but also to bring law enforcement, treatment providers, and communities together to solve common challenges that substance use and mental health disorders pose.

It’s known as pre-arrest diversion. Other terms include front-end diversion, deflection, and pre-booking diversion. Regardless of terminology, the goal is the same: to divert eligible individuals with substance use and mental health disorders to treatment before logging an arrest.

“We know from decades of research and experience that formal connections to treatment can improve access and outcomes,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Lessons learned from prosecutorial diversion programs, court intervention programs, and reentry programs can, and should, be applied even earlier in the justice system.”

The first point of entry into the justice system—and thus the earliest opportunity for justice diversion—is law enforcement.

“For most people who are manifesting substance use and mental health disorders, there are better alternatives than arrest,” said Rodriguez. “Through our work with partners across the country, we hope to make it easier for law enforcement officers to connect people to treatment.”

Building Police-Treatment-Community Partnerships

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2015, nearly half a million people died from a drug overdose, and since then, mortality rates have climbed precipitously, with a record 64,000 people having lost their lives to overdose in 2016.

Often at the front line of these tragedies, local law enforcement agencies are seeking new ways to better serve and protect communities confronting the consequences of substance use disorders, especially as police frequently interact with individuals affected by addiction and/or overdose. Pre-booking or pre-arrest diversion strategies can help reduce drug use, promote public safety, and save lives.

In March, the Center for Health and Justice at TASC partnered with the Civil Citation Network to convene the first-ever national summit focused on pre-arrest diversion. Criminal justice, behavioral health, and public policy experts from across the country gathered at the headquarters of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in Alexandria, Virginia, for two days of information sharing and planning.

From this meeting emerged the Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (“PTAC Collaborative”), the first national effort to build a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures law enforcement, treatment professionals, and community members collaborate as equal partners to widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion.

Working through the PTAC Collaborative, IACP and TASC have come together to promote alternative-to-arrest diversion programs for state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. This collaboration seeks to greatly improve the means, ease, and speed with which law enforcement can partner with substance use and mental health treatment providers so that police can help people access treatment.

Read more about TASC’s partnership with IACP and the PTAC Collaborative to advance pre-arrest diversion.

Save the date for the inaugural PTAC Collaborative conference March 4-7, 2018 in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

Browse additional stories in the current issue of TASC News & Views, including frameworks for pre-arrest diversion (p. 5), prosecutorial diversion in Illinois (p. 6), and the new Supportive Release Center in Cook County, Illinois, where TASC and partners provide intervention and service linkages at the critical point of release from jail (p. 7).

Also in this issue:

IACP and TASC Announce National Initiative to Combat the U.S. Opioid Epidemic and Mainstream Pre-Arrest Diversion Programs

(Chicago)  – The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) have come together to promote an initiative to create robust alternative-to-arrest diversion programs for state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States, in line with the White House announcement responding to the national opioid emergency.

The IACP/TASC collaboration seeks to greatly improve the means, ease, and speed with which law enforcement can partner with substance use and mental health treatment providers so that police can help people in need access treatment as rapidly as possible. This collaboration is particularly timely given the announced national opioid epidemic emergency. For example, “Naloxone Plus” models are specially designed for law enforcement and treatment partnerships to prevent future overdose deaths.

“At this critical time for our communities, law enforcement efforts to connect people with drug treatment could not have greater urgency,” said IACP President Donald De Lucca, chief of the Doral, Florida, Police Department. “Law enforcement officers, working side-by-side with treatment providers and community, will together help form the solution.”

To launch this effort, IACP and TASC will work through the Police, Treatment, and Community (PTAC) Collaborative, the first national effort to build a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures law enforcement, treatment professionals, and community members collaborate as equal partners to reduce crime in the United States.

The IACP and TASC initiative will: 1) identify the many variations on the concept of diversion across the United States, pinpointing programs with the most promising and measurable outcomes; 2) launch a significant nationwide pilot implementation approach using the identified promising models; 3) leverage the resources of the IACP Center for Police Research and Policy at the University of Cincinnati to measure and evaluate the results of the pilot implementation to ensure an evidenced-based approach; and 4) launch one of the largest pre-arrest diversion initiatives in the United States, seeking a sea change in policing (and justice) practices.

While diversion to treatment is not a new concept, this initiative adds a critical element that’s been missing: a dynamic and sustainable partnership that brings together TASC’s expertise in evidence-based responses to substance use and mental health disorders, along with IACP’s expansive and knowledgeable law enforcement network.

“We know from four decades of research and experience that formal connections to treatment can improve access and outcomes,” said Pam Rodriguez, president and CEO of TASC. “Across the U.S., prisoner reentry programs, court intervention programs, and prosecutorial diversion programs have proven successful for decades. Their lessons can be applied even earlier in the justice system—ideally before people even enter it.”

“This initiative can yield value across the U.S., including safer communities, healthier families, and officers returning home safely from duty,” said De Lucca.


About TASC

TASC, Inc. has a 40-year history of bridging justice systems and community-based substance use treatment programs. Offering direct services to more than 20,000 people annually in Illinois, TASC works in partnership with law enforcement, courts, prisons, child welfare programs, and community-based service providers to implement evidence-based services that increase health and reduce recidivism.

About the IACP

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is a professional association for law enforcement worldwide. For more than 120 years, the IACP has been launching internationally acclaimed programs, speaking on behalf of law enforcement, conducting groundbreaking research, and providing exemplary programs and services to members across the globe.

Today, the IACP continues to be recognized as a leader in these areas. By maximizing the collective efforts of the membership, IACP actively supports law enforcement through advocacy, outreach, education, and programs. Through ongoing strategic partnerships across the public safety spectrum, the IACP provides members with resources and support in all aspects of law enforcement policy and operations. These tools help members perform their jobs effectively, efficiently, and safely while also educating the public on the role of law enforcement to help build sustainable community relations.

About PTAC

 The Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTAC Collaborative) was launched in April 2017 with a mission to strategically widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. The purpose of the PTAC Collaborative is to provide national vision, leadership, voice, and action to reframe the relationship between law enforcement, treatment, and community. PTAC promotes the development and dissemination of a wide variety of pre-arrest diversion efforts, not limited to any single approach. PTAC seeks to avoid issues of racial disparity in practice as pre-arrest diversion initiatives grow across the country. We welcome the participation of representatives from law enforcement and other criminal justice entities, behavioral health, research, community, advocacy and related organizations in any of the strategic areas.

TASC Releases Survey of Prosecutorial Diversion in Illinois, Offering Recommendations to Guide Expansion and Improvement

(Chicago) – A new survey of Illinois state’s attorneys illustrates the scope and variety of prosecutorial diversion initiatives operating in jurisdictions across the state.

The intent of such programs often is to redirect individuals away from the criminal justice system and into community-based services, thereby preventing the unnecessary costs and harmful consequences—to the justice system, to communities, and to individuals and families—of repeated arrests, convictions, and incarcerations.

The report, No Entry: A Survey of Prosecutorial Diversion in Illinois, was produced by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC. It describes 54 programs operating in 37 Illinois counties, based on information submitted by prosecutors on diversion programs and options offered in their jurisdictions. The survey collected information on program authorization, oversight, target populations, goals, structure, services, outcomes, and evaluation.

“The survey highlights the work of state’s attorneys to meet local needs, and the needs of people coming through their systems, while also highlighting areas for improvement and growth,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

“The current criminal justice system is clearly too expensive, and is proving to be an ineffective way to handle many offenders. In an effort to achieve an efficient and effective model, we must embrace initiatives that not only hold offenders accountable, but also appropriately impact their lives,” said Joseph Bruscato, Winnebago County state’s attorney and chairman of the Board of Governors for the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office. “Alternative justice programs can substantially reduce the likelihood that an individual will repeat their criminal behavior, and gives them the opportunity to be restored to useful citizenship.”

Joseph McMahon, Kane County state’s attorney and member of the same Board of Governors, notes support among criminal justice partners for programs like these. “Diversion programs receive widespread support in Kane County’s criminal courtrooms—from our office, from judges, and from defense attorneys—because they effectively address issues with people who need an alternative approach. I support and advocate for diversion programs and alternative courts because they hold people accountable yet provide an opportunity to move forward, they benefit the community, and they reduce long-term costs. They are the right thing to do.”

Preventing the Collateral Consequences of Convictions

With criminal justice reform efforts underway in jurisdictions across the country, diversion programs across the front end of the criminal justice system continuum not only help stem the vast numbers of people flowing into courts and correctional systems, but also may forestall the long-term collateral consequences of a conviction.

With that understanding, and to be clear and consistent about what type of programs were included in the survey, the project adopted a definition of “diversion” that included only those programs and practices that divert individuals in a way that affords the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction on public record.

“Policies and practices that divert people from arrest and detention are critically important,” said TASC Policy Director Laura Brookes. “The survey acknowledges that a criminal conviction—for either a misdemeanor or felony—sets off all kinds of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become and remain a productive member of the community.”

By facilitating early intervention, prosecutors’ diversion policies, practices, and programs can reduce court caseloads, prevent criminal records, and encourage quicker access to services that put men and women on the path to health, stability, and community participation.

Observations and Recommendations

In addition to highlighting program goals and collaboration, several observations emerged from the survey analysis.

For example, most programs responding to the survey limited participation eligibility based on the defendant’s charge or criminal history, and many were limited to first-time offenses. Most featured connections to clinical services, such as substance use and mental health interventions, with many accessing other supportive services as well.

A number of respondents reported either that evidence-based practices were not used or that they were not sure if they were used. In terms of program funding, a majority of programs surveyed relied on local budgets and/or participant fees. Additionally, responses indicated that while many programs reported outcomes, in most cases they did not rise to a statistical measure that can be analyzed or compared on level footing with other programs.

The report offers eight recommendations intended to guide criminal justice system practitioners and other stakeholders in the development, implementation, expansion, replication, and improvement of diversion programs. The recommendations are also intended to inform and motivate discussions and decisions made by policymakers and other decision-makers, as diversion programs continue to proliferate.

  1. Incorporate research findings and evidence-based practices into diversion programs.
  2. Apply resources to individuals and programs with potential to achieve the greatest impact.
  3. Incorporate community-based behavioral health and social services into diversion programs, as appropriate, especially substance use and mental health services.
  4. Leverage all available resources for community-based behavioral health and social services, and strongly advocate to protect and expand them.
  5. Adopt standardized program goals, outcome and performance measures, and terminology.
  6. Adopt standardized data collection and analysis models and mechanisms.
  7. Develop a web-based, searchable directory of diversion programs in Illinois.
  8. Develop opportunities for cross-system education, training, and technical assistance available to jurisdictions for the purpose of establishing, expanding, or improving prosecutorial diversion programs.

For further information on front-end diversion initiatives, please visit the Center for Health and Justice at TASC.