Collateral Consequences of Convictions

(Chicago) – TASC submitted comments for the May 19 briefing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Collateral Consequences: The Crossroads of Punishment, Redemption, and the Effects on Communities.

The briefing focused on the barriers to successful community reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals. According to the Commission, “They may face numerous barriers to reentry, including denial of governmental assistance designed to assist with finding employment. These collateral consequences affect families of the formerly incarcerated in a multitude of ways. For decades, communities of color have been disproportionately represented in the rates of felony convictions, and therefore are hardest hit.”

These barriers are mirrored in Illinois, and are experienced by TASC clients, even decades after they have paid their debt to society and resumed a law-abiding life. Barred access to employment and housing opportunities also create added challenges for individuals who are also striving to overcome substance use and mental health disorders.

Below is a synopsis of TASC’s comments, offering observations from decades of experience working to support diversion to community-based behavioral health treatment for men and women involved in the justice system, as well as reentry support following release from incarceration:

[Barriers to reentry and disproportionate minority contact are among] the reasons that TASC actively pursues strategies and opportunities that reduce the number of people entering the justice system. We seek to divert people away at every intervention point, and we promote avenues to health and recovery in the community so individuals do not return to the system.

We worked with and drafted reports on behalf of the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study (DJIS) Commission and Illinois Racial and Ethnic Impact [REI] Research Task Force) to evaluate and address disparities in the justice system. We conducted several surveys of diversion programs across the country and in Illinois that prevent criminal convictions on record, offering observations and recommendations for improvement and expansion.

We seek ways to improve access to healthcare coverage for those who come in contact with the justice system. Recently we have collaborated with jurisdictions in exploring law enforcement diversion practices for drug-involved individuals, a need that has become even more visible and accentuated in the midst of the opioid crisis.

We recognize that there are many individuals in the justice system who are less likely to return to the system if they have access to behavioral health services, and we know that a criminal record acts as a barrier to recovery, restored citizenship, and community reintegration. Improving access to and connecting justice-involved populations to community-based services may help reduce the racial disparities that exist throughout the criminal justice system. It is good health policy. It is good justice policy. It is good public policy.

In our decades of work in these fields, we have made a number of observations about the state of safe, responsible criminal justice diversion that we hope will inform the Commission’s work.

  • The criminal justice system has become a de facto societal response to substance use and mental illness. Across the U.S., criminal justice systems are managing record numbers of people, with rates of substance use and mental health disorders that are much higher than those among the general public. More jurisdictions are focusing efforts to leverage resources toward management of these disorders in the community instead of the justice system, seeking to prevent taxpayer costs associated with incarceration and recidivism, as well as to support restored citizenship and second chances.
  • Numerous factors have led to broad-based calls for criminal justice reform. In recent years, a confluence of factors has created fertile ground for broad-based improvements to criminal justice policy and practice. These factors have included overburdened courts, crowded jails and prisons, strained government budgets, advances in the science of drug use intervention and recovery, shifting public attitudes about drug policy, awareness of the negative and residual impacts of justice involvement on families and communities, attention on the disparate burden of justice policies on racial/ethnic minority communities, and a preponderance of research on the effectiveness and cost efficiency of alternatives to incarceration.
  • Diversion policy should be focused on systems rather than programs. Modern justice policy is beginning to adopt public health strategies, focusing on broad-based, systemic intervention, and the application of the minimum but appropriate amount of supervision, sanctions, accountability, services, and resources to achieve the intended result.
  • Meaningful diversion can happen at any point before conviction. Initiatives can occur at points of contact with law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders, pretrial services and probation, the judiciary, and even the jail. In cases where diversion before conviction isn’t an option, treatment-based alternatives to incarceration can prevent recidivism, taxpayer costs, and deleterious effects of confinement.
  • Evidence-based practices should inform decision-making. The most effective response to justice-involved individuals with substance use and mental health issues is a locally defined balance of supervision, accountability, and community treatment and support. What is deemed appropriate should be driven by the ever-expanding base of research and data regarding which intervention models best serve a given population at a given point of justice involvement. A risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) approach offers particular promise in this context. Considered a best practice for criminal justice populations, this approach assesses both the risk of recidivism as well as needs related to substance use, mental health, and other social and environmental conditions, and determines the appropriate type and dose of treatments and other services necessary to maximize justice and health outcomes.
  • Responses should be data-driven, which may mean changes in methods and resource allocation related to data collection. Justice, health, and community resources should be allocated to those programs that demonstrate the greatest capacity to reduce recidivism, protect public order and safety, promote public health, and promote equal and fair access to alternative options, while also mitigating the need for costly justice supervision. These determinations will be most successful if uniform data are collected and used—including measures related to the race/ethnicity of participants—and if programs take formal steps to develop standardized outcome measures (cost-, public safety-, and public health-based), and measure, analyze, monitor, and share results.
  • Arbitrary prohibitions on eligibility are counter-productive. Many jurisdictions still set limits on participation in diversion programs based on offense history or type, such as accepting only people with first-time or “low-level” offenses. Instead, jurisdictions can adopt strategies and interventions that focus on those individuals most likely to recidivate, and that consider factors other than just current charge and criminal history in determining an intervention plan (for example, through the use of individualized risk and needs assessments). The next generation of diversion programs should be able to determine and provide the appropriate level of services and justice supervision for each individual.
  • The field is continuing to evolve. The development of a common, shared language to discuss diversion and alternatives to incarceration is still in process. The need for clarity and specificity around the description of programs and models will be of increasing importance in the growing exchange of ideas, innovations, and best practices.

We are committed to continuing our work to connect people involved in or at risk for involvement in the justice system with community-based treatment and services for behavioral health conditions, to promote and support diversion and alternative options that prevent criminal convictions on record whenever appropriate and possible, and to advance policies and practices that reduce disproportionate minority contact with the justice system.


National Reentry Week Highlights Key Elements of Criminal Justice Reform

The U.S. Department of Justice has designated April 24-30 as National Reentry Week, highlighting efforts to support successful community reintegration for men and women who have been incarcerated.

Renewed community reentry strategies are part of a wave of criminal justice reforms across the country. These initiatives involve reversing decades-old policies and practices that not only have fueled record incarceration rates, but also have created substantial reentry barriers for people who have paid their debt to society. Such barriers include practices and policies that bar or inhibit people with offense records from accessing rehabilitative care, employment, and affordable housing.

The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction extend beyond the direct consequences issued by a sentencing court. These penalties and disadvantages are now well understood to contribute to stubborn recidivism rates. According to Department of Justice data, half of those released from state prisons returned within three years. Illinois’ recidivism rate mirrors the national trend, with 47 percent of individuals released from prison returning within that time frame.

Compounding the harms of collateral consequences are disproportionately high rates of substance use disorders among incarcerated individuals, and sparse treatment and recovery support within institutions and following incarceration. Research has identified problem substance use as a “criminogenic” need—a dynamic risk factor that can be changed—and it is increasingly recognized by reform efforts that seek to apply evidence-based approaches to reduce recidivism.

Reentry in Illinois

Faced with a prison population that increased by 650 percent since the 1970s and a system built to house 32,095 individuals with greater than ten thousand more than that currently behind bars, Illinois has undertaken efforts in recent years to reverse these trends.

In 2014, the Illinois state legislature convened a bi-cameral, bi-partisan Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee to examine the current system, study the impact of current sentencing structure, and consider strategies for reform. In 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner issued Executive Order 15-14, creating the Illinois Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission, and tasking it with a goal of mapping out strategies to decrease the state prison population by 25 percent within 10 years. TASC President Pam Rodriguez is an appointed member of the Commission.

In its work to date, the Commission has affirmed that appropriate substance use treatment not only helps address the health and social problems among those involved in the justice system, but also decreases crime and recidivism:

“Building community capacity to address the criminogenic needs of offenders, such as behavioral health services, job training, and access to social services, is critical to reducing the prison population safely and sustaining the reduction over time.”

“Recommendation 12—Enhance rehabilitative programming in IDOC. Implement or expand evidence-based programming that targets criminogenic need, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy and substance abuse treatment. Prioritize access to programming to high-risk offenders. Evaluate those programs identified as promising and eliminate ineffective programs.”

Successful Reentry Models

Proven, evidence-based, and nationally recognized reentry models already exist in Illinois. The Sheridan and Southwestern prison drug treatment and reentry programs offer drug treatment services, both within the prison facility and in communities after release, and comprehensive reentry services, including TASC reentry case management and recovery support.

The programs have been rigorously evaluated. Individuals in the Sheridan prison reentry program have a 15 percent lower likelihood of return to prison within three years of release than comparable releasees who did not receive these services. Those successfully completing the program had even better recidivism outcomes, with a 44 percent lower likelihood of return to prison. The program operated at Southwestern Correctional Center has demonstrated comparable outcomes. A subsequent evaluation of the Sheridan program found that its recidivism benefits were still intact seven years after release.

Additionally, the programs were found to have generated combined annual savings of $5 million in reduced incarceration costs.

“There is substantial research on what works in reentry policies and practices,” says Rodriguez. “The more that our public systems, communities, and families understand and apply this knowledge, the more successful we can be together in reducing recidivism and restoring men and women to full citizenship in communities.”

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 President Hails Quinn Signature on New Criminal Justice Reform Laws

(Chicago, IL) – A new state law that is set to give Illinois employers a tax break to hire people with criminal records was signed over the weekend as part of an Illinois justice reform package.

Senate Bill 1659, which was among several signed by Governor Pat Quinn at a press conference on August 3, increases the income tax credit for employers who hire qualified individuals with criminal records. Sponsored by State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago), the new law extends the maximum tax credit from $600 to $1,500 per employee.

The tax credit will remain valid if an individual is hired within three years of being released from prison, rather than the current deadline of one year. The credit may be taken for up to five years.

“Formerly incarcerated individuals shouldn’t face a life sentence of no job prospects and no opportunities to better themselves just because they have served time in prison,” Quinn said. “These new laws will help them get back on their feet, contribute to their communities and keep one offense from becoming a lifelong barrier.”

In addition to the tax credit measure, Quinn also signed legislation that offers prosecutors and judges more sentencing options for non-violent offenders to reduce the risk of repeat offenses, and he approved a bill to streamline the criminal record expungement process.

Sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), House Bill 3010 creates a “second chance probation” option for non-violent offenders. The new law allows a conviction to be cleared from a defendant’s record upon successful completion of at least a two-year period of probation, giving prosecutors and judges more leeway in dealing with certain offenses, Quinn said.

The new “second chance probation” law is a companion to the other measure signed by the Governor, House Bill 2470, sponsored by State Rep. Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago). This law aims to ensure that motions to expunge or seal criminal records are heard in a timely manner, enabling individuals to quickly restart their professional and personal lives.

Among those attending the Quinn press conference was TASC president and CEO Pamela Rodriguez, who hailed the new laws.

“By providing tax credits to employers and by expunging records of non-violent offenders, these laws ease the path to employment, apartments, and educational assistance for ex-offenders,” she said. “And by extension, recidivism is reduced, communities are stabilized, and neighborhoods can reignite economic activity.”

Rodriguez stressed that the legislation includes strict conditions.

“These new laws present opportunities and benefits that must be earned,” she said. “People must work to finish any necessary substance abuse treatment, they must strictly abide by the terms of their probation while under criminal justice supervision, and they must avoid any criminal activity; these are not gifts.”

TASC’s president also praised the leadership and community advocacy behind the legislation.

“When TASC began more than 35 years ago, Illinois’ prisons had not yet been flooded with people with non-violent offenses, and the collateral consequences of such convictions on a large scale were not yet recognized,” said Rodriguez. “Fortunately, Governor Quinn, state legislators, community leaders, and organizations such as our Center for Health and Justice are all working to mitigate these mistakes and renew opportunities for people to reintegrate successfully and permanently into society.”


Photos by Harvey Tillis for IOCI Media Services

Photos by Harvey Tillis for IOCI Media Services

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

Illinois “Summits of Hope” Offer Positive Community Connections for People on Probation and Parole

Contributors: Janelle Prueter, Linda Gatson-Rowe, and Sandy Kiehna, TASC, Inc.

(Chicago and Marion, IL) — Across Illinois, about 40,000 men and women each year try to find their way again in society after being released from in prison. About half will return to prison within three years.[i]

In a state where unemployment rates hover near 10 percent, people who have been incarcerated find it especially challenging to secure a steady job. (See In These Times article on employment challenges for people with criminal records.) Without work or a legal source of income, without housing or a stable place to live, without community support or positive peer and family relationships, the chances for successful reentry are diminished.

And that’s just the beginning. Attempts at successful reentry can be further obstructed by a host of health issues, ranging from dental pain to drug addiction to depression. Untreated trauma, stigma, discrimination, and insufficient problem-solving skills may factor in as well.

Local communities play a key role when it comes to reducing recidivism. They are natural allies and beneficiaries in recidivism reduction efforts because these efforts translate to less crime.

This is where “Summits of Hope” come in.

Summits of Hope are day-long resource fairs where formerly incarcerated men and women can find information and services that will help them reconnect to their communities and become responsible members of society. Introduced in Mt. Vernon in 2009 through a partnership between the Parole Division of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), the Jackson County Health Department HIV Services, and other local agencies, there are now a number of such summits held throughout the year in community settings across Illinois.

The purpose of the Summits of Hope is to enhance public safety through reduced recidivism. Each summit is an invitation-only event for people on parole and/or probation in the community where the summit is held. Organized by local agencies and volunteers, in partnership with community service vendors and several divisions of Illinois government, the summits offer a one-stop environment where participants can obtain the necessary assistance to begin to move past common barriers to success. Each local area forms a committee that spearheads the event, and the IDOC parole unit ensures that all events are consistent throughout the state. TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) has helped plan and participate in each summit since they began.

Upon arriving at a local summit, each participant is assisted by a counselor or volunteer who guides the parolee through the maze of services and exhibits, focusing on those resources that are most pertinent to that individual. Resources include free HIV testing and service linkage, social services, shelters, food, clothing, mental health, substance abuse treatment, recovery support, education, job training, free or low cost medical, child care, college and adult education, assistance programs for utilities, transportation, and more. On-site services include the Secretary of State Mobile Unit to issue state identification cards (usually $20, but often underwritten by local organizations at each summit), medical screenings, H1N1 and other vaccinations, haircuts, mobile food pantries with clothing and other items, and demonstrations on how to dress for success.

People released from prison usually leave with no more than their private possessions and about $10. Most don’t have driver’s licenses or state identification cards, which are essential when it comes to applying for jobs or renting a place to live. By contrast, men and women leaving a Summit of Hope are likely to have a new state ID card, health screening results, appointment reminders, and a bag filled with information on agencies and community groups that offer help.

Between February 2010 and March 2012, more than a dozen Illinois communities hosted a total of 31 summits, reaching 5,871 men and women on parole or probation. Of these, more than 1,000 have received a state identification card and even more have received free HIV testing. In addition, the summits have offered hundreds of medical check-ups, blood pressure checks, H1N1 shots, and other vital services.

“Events like this give hope to clients who felt like they were all alone in their struggle,” says Tommie Johnson, recovery support services coordinator for TASC. Johnson helps set up peer-supported Winners Circles across Illinois for people who deal with the dual stigma of being in recovery from addiction and having a criminal record. For his ongoing work in establishing peer support groups for long-term recovery and success, he received the 2011 Unsung Hero Award from the Winners’ Circle Peer Support Network of Texas.

The Summits of Hope have received recognition for their innovative and generous efforts to support successful reentry. These awards include the 2009 Illinois Department of Public Health Takin’ it to the Streets’ Award for Innovative Outreach Programs; the 2010 Illinois Senate Recognition Award for Re-Entry; the 2010 Illinois Governor’s Gold Star Award for Re-Entry; the 2010 Federal Probation Award of Recognition; and the 2011 Model Practice Award from National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

Even more than the awards, participants’ comments convey the need for and value of these summits. “Everything” was a common answer when attendees were asked what they liked most about their summit experience. Many expressed appreciation for the volunteers who walked them through the exhibits and resources. “My volunteer made sure I got all the information I needed,” wrote one participant. Another wrote, “Getting information on school and the diapers they gave me helped a lot, passing [the] drug test, everything, I am now more confident in getting a job.”

For most, the operative words were “thank you,” as in this reflection from a participant: ”Everybody treated me nice! Keep things going for the good of all, KEEP DOING THIS!!! WELL DONE!!”

Upcoming Summits of Hope will take place in Chicago, Rock Island, and Marion, Illinois. Please visit the Summit of Hope website to learn more about the summits, read participant feedback, and find out how you can volunteer or contribute to upcoming events.


Janelle Prueter is the director of statewide corrections and reentry services for TASC. Linda Gatson-Rowe is administrator over several of TASC’s corrections reentry programs in northern Illinois, and Sandy Kiehna administers reentry programs in southern Illinois.

[i] Pew Center on the States. (2011, April). State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, p. 10.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Justice System Unfair to Drug Offenders

(Chicago, IL) – February 2, 2011

The Chicago Sun-Times has published an editorial following the release of the final report by the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission. (See story.)

The editorial concludes, “The state can make improvements… by increasing funding for prison-alternative programs such as drug courts and substance abuse treatment for nonviolent offenders. Each prison inmate costs the state about $25,000 a year, according to Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities. The cost of treating a low-level drug offender, on the other hand, ranges from $4,000 to $7,000.

“Better alternatives to prison are essential.”

Please read the full editorial here.


OP-ED: Prison Drug Treatment Would Reduce Crime, Recidivism, Budgets; Deficit Commission Should Heed Savings by Treatment, Recommendations in National Drug Control Strategy


By Robert Weiner and Daphne Baille

See op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Two million, three hundred thousand Americans are in prison today—number one in the world.  That’s up  from 500,000 in 1980.  Seven million Americans are now in the criminal justice system—incarcerated, on probation or on parole—also the most in the world.  Imprisonment is one of the most expensive items of state and local budgets.  The cost of incarceration in the U.S. is estimated at over $60 billion dollars a year. 

Most of the increases are due to the prosecution of drug abusers starting in the 80s. Drugs were rampant during that time period; in 1980, 14% of Americans abused illegal drugs monthly.  That number is now down to 8%, but a whopping 68% of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs, according to Justice Department surveys of 30 cities. The nexus of drugs and crime is undeniable.

There is a solution other than putting drug abusers behind bars—drug treatment. Despite the fact that 68% of arrestees test positive for drugs, only 14% of prisoners receive treatment.

Photo by Steve Smedley of The Pantagraph

Marc Mauer, the director of the highly respected Sentencing Project, called the prison-drugs recidivism cycle “a 25-year quagmire.”  The Sheridan Correctional Center, a medium security facility that houses male offenders 70 miles west of Chicago, found that prisoners who completed treatment after release were 40% less likely to be arrested a year later and 85% less likely to return to prison – with counseling, job training, and supervision critical to this success.

Instead of mandatory sentencing for drug abuse, more drug treatment in prison and more “drug courts” providing treatment instead of prison should be what’s mandatory.

The Urban Institute in 2008 reported that 1.5 million arrestees meet the legal and clinical standards for drug court, which require effective treatment and supervision. Yet only 55,000 arrestees are now receiving such treatment. If all 1.5 million at-risk arrestees were treated, there would be $46 billion in savings to society.  The study reaffirms that crime is 4-6 times higher under the influence of drugs.

Former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey calls support for drug courts everywhere in America “a no-brainer.”  We pay $25,000 a year to incarcerate someone; treatment costs a few thousand for an entire year, and many can stop after a few months as long as they have monitored counseling in prison and when they leave.

In Illinois, virtually every criminal court can be a “drug court” because State law allows nonviolent offenders to ask for supervised drug treatment instead of incarceration. Every eligible offender who takes this route saves the State $18,000 in prison costs but  treatment must be available. The State slashed treatment funding 22% last year and another 8% this year.   

The President’s National Commission on Fiscal Reform (“Deficit Commission”) is scheduled to recommend how to lower the deficit right after the November elections.  They should heed House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers’ (D-Detroit) comments at his committee’s Prison Overcrowding hearing on September 28. The bipartisan hearing was originally aimed to curb the bureaucracy and jail sentences for minor crimes like snowmobiling in the wrong place in a national park—fine to change, but hardly the major cause of prison overcrowding. 

Conyers stated, “My emphasis is directed to the way the drug war incarcerates people in the United States. What we need are drug courts diverting people to treatment, and treatment rather than mandatory sentences. [Now] there is more attention to law enforcement than treatment of the drug problem as a health crisis.”

Expanded drug treatment for offenders would take the proverbial “bite out of crime.” It would reverse overcrowding, reduce crime and recidivism, and help federal, state, and local budgets. The White House’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy recommends more alternatives to incarceration for people with serious substance abuse problems.

Congress should heed the strategy and double the $5 billion currently budgeted for all treatment and prevention, in and out of prison.

According to a UCLA study, for every dollar invested in treatment, taxpayers save $7 in reduced crime and other benefits.  This $5 billion investment would translate to real savings of $35 billion for American taxpayers.

Did you hear that, Deficit Commission?

Robert Weiner is former spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office, the House Government Operations Committee, and the House Narcotics Committee.  Daphne Baille is the communications director for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), a Chicago-based justice and health services and advocacy group.