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.

TASC Executive Vice President Chairing National Addiction Leadership Conference

(Chicago) – TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca will chair the 2017 National Addiction Leadership Conference, which will take place May 21-23 in Austin, Texas.

Hosted by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), this annual event is the premier conference for professionals in the addiction treatment field, featuring leadership roundtables, workshops, and networking events focused on the exchange ideas, research, public policy, clinical advancements, and best practices in addiction treatment.

In addition to serving as conference chair, Palanca also will moderate a panel discussion on bridging the public system/private system treatment divide.

Maureen McDonnell, TASC’s national director for healthcare initiatives, will join the panel to discuss the role of Medicaid in improving treatment access for people with substance use disorders.

The theme of this year’s conference is Developing a Unified Treatment Provider Platform.

“With overdoses killing 144 of our fellow citizens each day, our call is urgent. We have the opportunity to face new challenges as a united front,” said Palanca. “Our 2017 conference is built around the theme of unity, because patients and families need to be able to walk into a system that is interconnected and focused on their success.”

Palanca is executive vice president and chief operating officer of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), which advocates for alternatives to incarceration and community reentry services for people with substance use and mental health disorders, and serves more than 18,000 individuals and families in Illinois each year. A national expert in addiction treatment services, Palanca is a board member of NAATP, co-chair of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), and past chair and current board member of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health (IABH).

Click to learn more about the NAATP conference and to register.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca, 2017 National Addiction Leadership Conference Chair

Governor Rauner Signs Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Legislation at TASC

(Chicago) – Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, accompanied by bill co-sponsors State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13) and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-92), signed bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation at TASC on March 10.

SB2872, also known as the Neighborhood Safety Act, increases trauma recovery support services for crime victims, strengthens judicial discretion to mandate individuals to probation and addiction treatment services in the community instead of prison, and expands opportunities for rehabilitative programming within Illinois prisons.

Watch a video of the March 10 bill signing here, including remarks from Governor Rauner; Senator Raoul; Representative Gordon-Booth; John Maki, executive director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority; Lisa D. Daniels, founder of the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Justice; and Lenore Anderson, president of the Alliance for Safety and Justice.

The legislation advances recommendations of the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform in its final report, including giving further discretion to judges regarding whether certain offenses may be appropriate for probation.

“By increasing access to rehabilitation services and alternatives to incarceration, this bill helps to support families, build communities, and reduce the number of people in prison and associated costs,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez, a member of the Governor’s commission, which seeks to reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent by 2025.

“TASC strongly supports these legislative reforms,” said Rodriguez. “We applaud the Governor, Senator Raoul, Representative Gordon-Booth, all the bill co-sponsors, and our community partners for their leadership in bringing about these important reforms.”

Governor Rauner signs SB2872 at TASC. Left to right: John Maki, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority; IL Senator Kwame Raoul; IL Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth; IL Governor Bruce Rauner; Lisa D. Daniels, Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Justice; Lenore Anderson, Alliance for Safety and Justice.

OP-ED: Revamping of Health Law Could Be Costly to Illinois

As Congress prepares to replace the Affordable Care Act, it is essential that the Medicaid expansion provision of the law be protected.

Any rollback of federal Medicaid coverage would be particularly harmful to Illinois, especially as our state grapples with budget deficits, an opioid epidemic, and an overburdened criminal justice system.

Under the ACA, Illinois was among the majority of states that expanded Medicaid, which provides federally-funded health insurance for low-income people. In a January letter to congressional leaders, the Rauner administration expressed concern about potential changes to Medicaid, pointing out that 3.2 million Illinoisans—almost one-quarter of the state’s population—are enrolled in coverage. 

Reducing Medicaid coverage would deprive Illinois of millions of dollars per year in federal support. As an example, in behavioral health services alone, the state would have to replace an estimated $80 million per year in federal Medicaid resources to pay for community-based substance use and mental health services that would support alternatives to incarceration and reentry initiatives.

Second, such changes would fly in the face of efforts to address the opioid epidemic that is devastating Illinois communities. Nineteen Illinois sheriffs, prosecutors, and police chiefs recently signed a letter to Congress urging action against any policy changes that would make it even harder for low-income individuals to access addiction and/or mental health treatment. Lack of treatment access impairs law enforcement’s ability to prevent overdose deaths and to make our communities safer.  

Finally, rolling back Medicaid coverage would hamstring Illinois’ successful bipartisan progress toward reforming the criminal justice system. Coverage for addiction and mental health services is essential to the state’s strategy for preventing crime, reducing recidivism, and avoiding the $41,000 per person annual average cost of incarceration for those whose non-violent offenses stem from untreated health conditions.

It is well recognized that there are aspects of the Affordable Care Act that must be overhauled. However, as changes are made, and to expound on what the Governor’s administration and criminal justice experts have written, it would be foolhardy and counter-productive if those changes include an attack on Medicaid coverage. Illinois can ill afford such a loss.

Pamela F. Rodriguez, President & CEO of TASC

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.

TASC Co-Convenes First-Ever National Summit on Deflecting People from Arrest

(Alexandria, VA) – Criminal justice, behavioral health, and public policy experts from across the country convened on March 1-2 for the first-ever national summit focused on strategies to deflect people with drug problems and/or low-level offenses away from the justice system before they enter it, and into behavioral health services instead.

Participants tweeted with the hashtag #Deflection2017, including a concise summary of the event from the Pretrial Justice Institute: “Big ideas. Big partners. Big conversation. #Deflection2017.”

Police, prosecutors, treatment/clinical experts, researchers, and representatives from national law enforcement and behavioral health associations discussed alternatives to arrest for low-level offenses, as well as new methods for confronting the opioid crisis and addiction, focusing on treatment-based solutions through which police can partner with behavioral health service providers in the community.

Hosted in Alexandria by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the two-day 2017 Deflection Summit was convened by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC and the Civil Citation Network. The summit was sponsored by C4 Recovery Solutions, IACP, and Ad Care Criminal Justice Services.

Pre-booking or pre-arrest diversion initiatives—also called deflection—offer practical strategies for reforming the front end of the criminal justice system and preventing cycles of arrest and incarceration of people with treatable substance use or mental health issues.

Depending on local community needs and behavioral health capacity, police deflection programs across the country have varying designs, but their goals are consistent: to continue to promote and enhance public safety while also responding more effectively to substance use and mental health problems, and to low-level offenses. These solutions help reverse the tide of people with nonviolent offenses entering the justice system.

In his March 2017 article in Police Chief MagazineJac Charlier, who directs national justice initiatives for the Chicago-based Center for Health and Justice at TASC, describes a number of deflection models currently in place throughout the country, including programs within the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI) network; Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD); Baltimore’s Stop, Triage, Educate, Engage, Rehabilitate (STEER) program; citation in lieu of arrest; and drug overdose response teams, such as Lucas County, Ohio’s Drug Action Response Team (DART). Each of these programs, along with several others, brought forth their direct experience and insights at the deflection summit.

“Even a first-time arrest for a misdemeanor offense can end up having lifelong consequences, especially in employment,” said Greg Frost, president of the Tallahassee-based Civil Citation Network, a program offering counseling, education, and community service in lieu of arrest. “If people complete our program successfully, they can avoid an arrest record and the negative consequences that go with it.”

Robert Ryberg, CEO of C4 Recovery Solutions, an international not-for-profit working in substance use and addiction, explained, “Deflection is a key strategy for helping individuals access treatment services, especially those who have not yet self-identified as needing treatment and who are pursuing life strategies that often result in criminal activity. ”

“Police crisis intervention models for responding to mental health emergencies have been successful for many years, and deflection initiatives build from that experience,” added TASC’s Charlier. “Deflection programs are specifically designed to prevent people from going into the justice system when they can safely instead be connected directly to treatment services in the community. It’s a win-win for better safety in the community, for law enforcement, and for the people who get the help they need.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 144 Americans die every day from a drug overdose, including 91 from an opioid overdose.

“Especially in this time as our nation faces the opioid epidemic, we can save lives by deflecting people to treatment,” said Charlier.

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February 12-18 is Children of Alcoholics Awareness Week

(Chicago) – The National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) has announced that February 12-18 is Children of Alcoholics Awareness Week 2017.

“At a time that our country is finally facing the science that has shown repeatedly that addiction is a treatable brain disorder and is moving to address it effectively in our medical systems and criminal justice systems, it is still failing to protect and promote the rights of the millions of children whose home life daily is overwhelmed by the misuse of alcohol and drugs,” said NACoA President and CEO Sis Wenger. “The people who should be nurturing and protecting them are, instead, consumed by an insidious disease that erodes family life and leaves their children to suffer in stifling silence, feeling alone and desperate. It is time, finally, for America to do the right thing for these most at-risk children.”

With age-appropriate help, children of addicted parents can find ways to resolve the stress in their lives, including exercises like mindfulness, through which they can learn strategies to reduce stress levels and begin to heal, reports NACoA.

“Just as children are affected by parents’ addiction, they also can be deeply affected by the recovery process,” said TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca, who serves as vice chair of NACoA’s board of directors. “Everyone in a family affected by addiction needs healing. Like their parents in recovery, children may also need to learn new ways of coping, solving problems, and being happy.”

NACoA is the oldest national membership and affiliate non-profit organization committed to eliminating the adverse impact of alcohol and drug use on children and families.

TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) serves adults and adolescents who have substance use or mental health conditions and who are involved in justice or child welfare systems.

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New Illinois Laws Remove Employment Barriers for People with Criminal Records

(Chicago) – Job seekers with past justice involvement have new opportunities for employment this year, thanks to a series of bills passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016. These measures, which TASC supported, reduce or eliminate a number of employment barriers for individuals with past offenses.

These new measures include: restoring hiring discretion to employers by removing lifetime bans on jobs in schools and park districts; removing a similar ban on licensure to qualify for certain healthcare jobs; removing “red flags” on the State’s healthcare worker registry for jobs in the field that do not require licenses; and prohibiting professional licensure denials in seven specific occupations solely because the applicant has a criminal record unrelated to the occupation.

Together, these initiatives improve opportunities for people with prior justice involvement to work and earn income to support their families, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities.

“These laws help remove some of the lasting employment barriers that have hindered people long after they have paid their debt to society,” said Laura Brookes, TASC’s policy director. “We congratulate everyone who led and supported these measures.”

HB 4360, sponsored by State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14) and State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-5), removes the lifetime ban on employment in schools for individuals with controlled substance convictions or misdemeanor cannabis, prostitution, or public indecency records, replacing the controlled substances ban with a seven-year waiting period. SB 3005, sponsored by State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16) and Representative Cassidy, makes similar changes with regard to employment within local park districts. Further, the bill removes the permanent ban on park district jobs for people adjudicated for a drug offense as a juvenile.

SB 42 and HB 4515 remove barriers to jobs in healthcare for people with criminal records. SB 42 removes a lifetime ban on licenses for healthcare jobs from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) for individuals with certain offense records, replacing it with a three- or five-year ban instead, depending on circumstances. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) and State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-78), enables IDFPR discretion to decide whether to grant a license in any particular case. Rep. Lilly and Senator Don Harmon (D-39) sponsored HB 4515, which changes the focus of the Health Care Worker’s Registry to an individual’s ability to work and not whether or not he or she has obtained a waiver, which in some cases has acted as a “red flag” hindering employment opportunities rather than opening them up. The law also removes misdemeanor cannabis crimes from the list of disqualifying offenses.

HB5973, sponsored by State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-33) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13), removes barriers to employment in barbering, cosmetology, esthetics, hair braiding, nail technology, roofing, and funeral service for people with criminal records.

Advocacy for the school, park district, and healthcare employment bills was driven by FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality), an initiative of the Community Renewal Society led by people with records and their families and faith communities to “create change and seek justice for people with records,” and RROCI (Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois), led by Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. The occupational licensure bill was a joint initiative of the Safer Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute.