TASC Public Policy Priorities

At local, state, and federal levels, TASC supports public policies that reduce incarceration and create healthier communities. Our policy priorities are to:

1. Shrink the justice system by diverting eligible people away from prosecution and incarceration and into community-based services, as soon as appropriate.

2. Create pathways for successful reentry after justice involvement, and reduce barriers that inhibit success.

3. Promote evidence-based strategies in substance use and mental health disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery.

4. Expand community capacity to treat mental health and substance use disorders, adapting to changing environments.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez serves on Governor Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, and she has been honored by the White House for advancing system-wide justice interventions for people with substance use disorders. Rodriguez and TASC Founder Melody Heaps are featured in a White House video describing TASC as a model for reducing incarceration and increasing access to community-based healthcare and recovery.

For more information on TASC’s public policy activities, please visit our Center for Health and Justice.


TASC Leaders Featured in 2014 National Drug Control Strategy and White House Video

(Chicago) –  TASC President Pamela F. Rodriguez and President Emeritus Melody M. Heaps are featured in the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy, released July 9 by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Rodriguez, TASC’s president and CEO since 2009, and Heaps, who founded the agency and led it for 33 years, were honored at the White House in March as Advocates for Action for their national leadership in advancing system-wide justice interventions for people with substance use disorders. Advocates for Action is an initiative by ONCDP to recognize individuals’ achievements in improving the health and safety of their communities by combating the cycle of drug use and crime.

“Pamela Rodriguez and Melody Heaps are re-designing the criminal justice system to break the cycle of addiction, arrest, and incarceration,” says the introduction to a new video on the White House website.

As witnesses to the societal impact of illicit drugs and criminal justice responses over the past 40 years, Rodriguez and Heaps provide a concise history of these issues in the 11-minute video. They discuss the origins of TASC, the generational influences of drugs and crime in communities, the importance of appropriately diverting people with substance use and mental health problems from the justice system into health services in the community, and the significant opportunities that the Affordable Care Act presents in reducing rates of mass incarceration and recidivism by increasing access to behavioral health treatment.

In addition, TASC’s work in supporting systemic change via evidence-based sentencing is profiled in the national strategy’s fourth chapter: Break the Cycle of Drug Use, Crime, Delinquency, and Incarceration. With funding from ONDCP, and along with a team of national partners, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice are working with national law enforcement leaders to provide training on the science of addiction and how this understanding can inform police practices and policies.

The National Drug Control Strategy is published annually and provides key strategies and successful models for reducing illicit drug use and its consequences.

National Law Enforcement Leaders Examine Science of Substance Use Disorders and Implications for Practice

(Chicago) – White House Drug Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy were among the high-level policy and law enforcement leaders who met in Chicago recently for a seminal task force meeting to discuss the science of substance use disorders and implications for police and public safety.

The intensive two-day event, hosted by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC and held November 19-20, brought together prominent addiction neuroscientists, policy experts, and law enforcement leaders representing jurisdictions from California to Maryland. Weaving together science, policy, and practical experience, the presentations and discussions focused on the science of addiction and behavioral management in conjunction with police theory, existing police practices and policies, and opportunities for systemic interventions and action.

The Task Force is a component of the Justice Leaders Systems Change Initiative (JLSCI), which combines criminal justice training and systems change to achieve improved public safety, public health, reduced recidivism, and cost savings. The Police Practice Training Initiative and the Task Force are part of a larger criminal justice reform initiative funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

In addition to Kerlikowske and McCarthy, speakers included:

  • Pamela Rodriguez, President and CEO of TASC and its Center for Health and Justice
  • Benjamin Tucker, Deputy Director of State, Local, and Tribal Affairs for ONDCP
  • Timothy Condon, PhD, TASC’s Chief Science Advisor
  • Redonna Chandler, PhD, Chief of the Services Research Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Robert Schwartz, MD, Director of the Friends Research Institute
  • John Firman, Director of the Research Center of the International Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Bruce Kubu, Deputy Director of Research for the Police Executive Research Forum
  • Melody Heaps, President Emeritus of TASC

“This is a groundbreaking event, convening some of the top minds in the country in both addiction science and law enforcement,” said Rodriguez. “For years, we at TASC have experienced tremendous impact in bridging the criminal justice system with community-based drug treatment, most often through partnerships with courts, probation, and reentry. We know the critical importance of intervening earlier in the system—at the point of law enforcement and diversion programs—and we are grateful to ONDCP and every leader in the room for bringing their expertise to this effort.”

Hennepin County (MN) Sheriff Rich Stanek, president of the Major County Sheriffs Association, lauded the value of the meeting’s content and discussions. “I greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about addiction and what we, as professional law enforcement officers, can do collectively to intervene with people who need help and improve safety in our communities,” he said.

Training curricula and conferences will be developed for all levels of law enforcement—patrol officers to CEOs—expanding their knowledge of the science and treatment of addiction to improve police practice.

“There’s much more to come,” added Rodriguez.

The Chicago-based Center for Health and Justice at TASC is a national public policy group focused on criminal justice and health issues.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy (left) speaks with National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Dan Rest.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy (left) speaks with National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Dan Rest.

ONDCP's Benjamin Tucker (left) makes a point as TASC's Pamela Rodriguez listens. Photo by Dan Rest.

ONDCP’s Benjamin Tucker (left) makes a point as TASC’s Pamela Rodriguez listens. Photo by Dan Rest.

NIDA's Redonna Chandler presents data on the neuroscience of drug use. Photo by Dan Rest.

NIDA’s Redonna Chandler presents data on the neuroscience of drug use. Photo by Dan Rest.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

Creating Institutional Change in the Criminal Justice System: White House Blog Post by Judge William Dressel

(Chicago, IL)  —  Judge William F. Dressel, president of the National Judicial College, discusses a collaborative effort for systems change in a new blog post for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Judicial Leadership Systems Change Initiative was developed by the National Judicial College and TASC’s Center for Health and Justice, with support and participation from a number of researchers and federal entities, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (SAMHSA/CSAT), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Please read Judge Dressel’s post to find out about this innovative effort to help jurisdictions use science-based, systemwide responses to interrupt cycles of drug-related offenses. The initiative is promoted as a model for institutional change in the 2011 White House National Drug Control Strategy.

Congressman Danny Davis, White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske Headline Oct. 17 Forum on Drug Prevention, Treatment, and Adjudication Programs

(Chicago, IL) – Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) will convene a forum featuring Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and local drug prevention and treatment advocates to discuss the impact of Federal and local initiatives to combat recidivism and substance misuse.

The forum will take place at A Safe Haven, 2750 W. Roosevelt Road in Chicago on Monday, October 17 beginnin at 9:00 A.M.                 

The criminal justice system is the largest single source of referrals to substance abuse treatment in the U.S., comprising 37 percent of those in treatment. Criminal justice referrals are less likely to drop out of treatment and more likely to complete treatment than all other referrals (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Illinois has implemented several alternative-to-incarceration models that redirect eligible people into community-based treatment from all points in the justice system (e.g., prosecution, court, and sentencing), thereby reducing substance misuse and recidivism while maintaining supervision and accountability.

The forum will feature two panels with Federal officials and local advocates. The first panel will discuss Federal initiatives available in the Chicago area, including civilian and veteran drug prevention programs and drug courts, and the second panel will highlight the success of local drug treatment and adjudication programs and their impact on the health and safety of local communities. 

Congressman Davis is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives, and lead sponsor of the Second Chance Act, which authorizes federal grants to entities that provide drug treatment, mental health care, housing and jobs for people newly released from prison.

Who:                Panel 1

  Panel 2

TASC, Inc. is an advocate of cost-effective alternatives to incarceration and is a member agency of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, represented on Panel 2.  

Members of the media and the general public are welcome to attend the forum.

Survey: Drug Use Among 8th-Graders Surges; IL Treatment, Prevention Funding Cuts Aggravate Problem

(Chicago, IL) – Driven by increases in marijuana use, a new national survey says the rate of eighth-graders saying they have used an illicit drug in the past year jumped to 16 percent, up from 13 percent in 2007, but in Illinois, funding cuts to drug abuse prevention and treatment have left communities ill-equipped to respond to the spike, says a leading Illinois drug prevention advocate.

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), also shows that about half of 12th-graders have tried an illicit drug, with about one in 16 using marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis. Marijuana has surpassed cigarette smoking in some measures. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes.

“Increased youth use of marijuana risks long-term addiction, education failure, and, in too many cases, criminal activity,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), a Chicago-based non-profit that advocates for people in courts, jails, prisons, and child welfare systems who need treatment for alcohol and drug problems.

“In fact, more than nine times out of 10, kids who are referred to TASC by the justice system are using marijuana. Often they’re having trouble with school or have already dropped out. They’re on a risky path toward addiction and crime.

“The Obama Administration recognizes the critical role that prevention and treatment play in reducing demand for illicit drugs, proposing this year a 13.4% increase in spending on alcohol and other drug prevention programs and a 3.7% increase for addiction treatment,” she said.

And yet in Illinois, the funding trend has gone in reverse.

“The State of Illinois has cut drug prevention and treatment funding by 30 percent in the past three years,” said Rodriguez, noting that the use of illicit drugs among youth has gone up during the same period that funding for prevention and treatment have gone down. “With unprecedented funding cuts, our efforts to curb the demand for illicit drugs are severely hampered.”

Most measures of marijuana use increased among eighth-graders, and daily marijuana use increased significantly among all three grade levels tested in the survey. The 2010 use rates were 6.1 percent of high school seniors, 3.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.2 percent of eighth-graders compared to 2009 rates of 5.2 percent, 2.8 percent, and 1.0 percent, respectively.

“These high rates of marijuana use during the teen and pre-teen years, when the brain continues to develop, places our young people at particular risk,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about one in six people who start using it as adolescents become addicted.”

“The increases in youth drug use reflected in the Monitoring the Future Study are disappointing,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don’t help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs.” 

The survey also showed a significant increase in the reported use of MDMA, or Ecstasy, with 2.4 percent of eighth-graders citing past-year use in 2010, compared to 1.3 percent in 2009.  Similarly, past-year MDMA use among 10th-graders increased to 4.7 percent in 2010 from 3.7 percent in 2009.

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.