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.)


TASC 2016 Awards Luncheon Honors Civic and Philanthropic Leaders

(Chicago) – Business leaders, government officials, service providers, and community partners were among the more than 300 guests who filled the ballroom of the Westin Michigan Avenue on December 14 as TASC presented its 2016 Leadership Awards to The Chicago Reporter and John Kaul Greene.

Several past honorees—Congressman Danny Davis, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, attorney and former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine, attorney and former Illinois Appellate Judge Gino DiVito, and recently retired WGN news anchor Robert Jordan—were on hand to congratulate the 2016 award recipients and celebrate TASC’s 40-year anniversary.

Justice Leadership Award

In presenting TASC’s 2016 Justice Leadership Award to Susan Smith Richardson, editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter, TASC President Pam Rodriguez observed, “We know that the landscape of journalism has changed dramatically in the last several years. In this environment, quality journalism is a gift and a necessity for a free society.

The Reporter has explored the racial inequities in state and federal drug laws, and the complexities of undoing the damage of those laws,” Rodriguez said. “They have explored the links between poverty and incarceration, including the importance of repairing the cash bail system. They have reported extensively on the juvenile justice system in Illinois, and their reports have helped to inform policies that have significantly reduced our juvenile justice population.”

“Good journalism can help connect us to one another as a community, and it helps us to make informed decisions,” she said.

“I want to thank Pam for describing exactly why journalism in the public interest is important,” said Richardson in accepting the award, also crediting the founders and staff of The Chicago Reporter, as well as the Community Renewal Society with which it is aligned. She emphasized the importance of facts, figures, and numbers in measuring the city’s progress toward racial equality.

“What we hope we can do in this din, where facts are up for grabs, and certainly truth is always up for dispute, is to consistently pound away… using data, using rigorous reporting to be able to document what is actually happening in this community. We want to tell those stories.”

Public Voice Leadership Award

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca spoke of the recently released Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol Drugs and Health, which highlights the importance of diverting people to treatment, delivering evidence-based care, and enhancing the coordination of care and sustained recovery.

“Our work is as important and relevant today as it was 40 years ago,” said Palanca. More than 27 million people report misusing drugs, and 66 million report binge drinking. But only 10 percent get the help they need.

“It takes all of us to create communities of support for those we serve,” Palanca said, recognizing the diversity of public sector and private sector partners in the room. He praised TASC’s 2016 Public Voice Award honoree, John Kaul Greene, as “a man who cares deeply about doing the right thing, and about making our world a better place.

“John Greene is a husband, father, mentor, scholar, and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He is a longtime and consistent advocate for the work that brings us together today.”

Greene built businesses in Europe and Chicago for William Blair & Company before retiring as a partner in 2004. Among his many volunteer endeavors, he served on the board of a prominent addiction treatment organization when he met Palanca.

“It is through Peter Palanca that I have come to understand more about TASC, and what a significant role it plays in helping the most needy with addictive problems,” said Greene.

“My strongest impression of TASC is that you are down there in the trenches working with people who need it most… Through seeing your work, and in my own life, I have witnessed what can happen when you plant the seeds of recovery. For each person you help today, you are also helping his or her family members, friends, neighbors, future employers, and fellow citizens.”

40 Years and Looking Forward

“TASC is celebrating its 40th birthday this year,” noted TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, associate vice provost at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It is my belief that TASC is just entering its prime. It is still a young organization… always reinventing and coming up with new ideas.”

TASC’s 2016 event helped raise funds for the Supportive Release Center, a new initiative that will provide immediate connections to services for individuals in need who are leaving the Cook County Jail. A collaborative effort between TASC, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Heartland Health Outreach, and The University of Chicago Urban Labs through their Health Innovations Award, the SRC also has received support from several Chicago-area foundations and will open in 2017.

Curtwright offered special appreciation to the event’s 2016 presenting sponsor, PBC Advisors, and elite sponsor, Alkermes, as well as select sponsors John Kaul Greene, Janssen, Bill and Lezlie O’Donnell, William Blair, and Yes Lifecycle Marketing. He thanked sponsors at all levels, as well as this year’s event chair, John Zielinski, who helped ensure that this year’s event was the most successful ever.

“TASC remains committed to advocating for our clients and to improving the systems in which they are involved, no matter where, no matter when, and no matter what,” said Rodriguez. “And we have all of you—old friends and new—working beside us, inspiring new ideas and innovation.

“We are all leaders in this work, and we are all necessary in this work, and because of what I know about all of you, I remain hopeful and optimistic as we encounter the changes and opportunities that lie ahead.”

Founded in Illinois in 1976, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) offers programs and promotes public policies that divert people who have substance use and mental health conditions out of the justice system and into recovery in the community.

TASC presents its 2016 Justice Leadership Award to the Chicago Reporter. Left to right: Peter Palanca, TASC; Susan Smith, The Chicago Reporter; Pam Rodriguez, TASC; Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, Community Renewal Society

TASC presents its 2016 Justice Leadership Award to the Chicago Reporter. Left to right: Peter Palanca, TASC; Susan Smith Richardson, The Chicago Reporter; Pam Rodriguez, TASC; Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, Community Renewal Society.


John Kaul Greene (center right) accepts TASC's 2016 Public Voice Leadership Award from (left to right): TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, TASC President Pam Rodriguez, and TASC Executive VP Peter Palanca

John Kaul Greene (center right) accepts TASC’s 2016 Public Voice Leadership Award. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright; Pam Rodriguez, TASC; John Greene; Peter Palanca, TASC.

Parental Addiction Treatment Improves Child Welfare Outcomes: TASC President Pam Rodriguez at Capitol Hill Briefing

(Chicago) – TASC President Pam Rodriguez shared highlights of Illinois’ successful Recovery Coach program at a December 3 Capitol Hill briefing focused on issues and solutions in child welfare reform.

In partnership with the offices of U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Children and Family Futures hosted the briefing, entitled The Elephant in the Room: Access to Substance Abuse Treatment—A Cornerstone of Child Welfare Reform. With an audience encompassing Congressional staff, policymakers, and child welfare advocates, the briefing highlighted the role of substance use disorders in the child welfare system and what works to better serve affected children and their families.

Rodriguez presented lessons and outomes from Illinois’ Recovery Coach program, which addresses substance use disorders among parents whose children have been removed from custody due to substance-related maltreatment. The program began in 2000, funded through a Title IV-E waiver granted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). TASC has provided services for the Recovery Coach program since its inception in Cook County in 2000, as well as in Madison and St. Clair counties since the program expanded in 2007.

Links between childhood maltreatment and delinquency. There is growing understanding of the connection between child maltreatment and later delinquency, and the crossover of children who are involved in both child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Young people involved in these systems face a host of complex challenges, which may include trauma, educational difficulties, mental health conditions, sexual abuse, and the instability of group homes or foster care placement.

TASC works with DCFS to help stabilize children in care and reduce young people’s likelihood of becoming involved in the justice system.

Intensive outreach and case management. Through the Recovery Coach program, TASC works with the parent, child welfare caseworker, and alcohol/drug treatment agency to remove barriers to treatment, engage the parent in treatment, provide outreach to re-engage the parent if necessary, and provide ongoing support to the parent and family through the duration of the child welfare case.

As Rodriguez explained in the briefing, the program draws on research pointing to the complex needs of parents involved in child welfare and justice systems. For example, a 2014 needs assessment report by the Center for Children and Family Futures for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention synthesized hundreds of Family Drug Court surveys, stakeholder interviews, and more than 2,500 technical assistance requests from all 50 states.

Among Family Drug Courts, services for parents were consistently identified as priorities. Systems must recognize and respond to complex and multiple needs arising from trauma, dual-diagnosis, and domestic violence; responses include engagement and retention strategies, recovery supports, and serving parents in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The report also found that sustainability of funding and cross-system knowledge emerge as consistently-cited needs among jurisdictions and stakeholders.

Rodriguez noted that the Recovery Coach program’s success comes from not only the direct services to parents, but also the understanding of and attention to the cross-systems issues that influence outcomes. Further, the program provides a response to the opiate crisis that is affecting child welfare systems.

“With the rise in heroin use across the country, even more children are being removed from their homes and placed in foster care,” said Rodriguez. “By working with systems to address complex issues around addiction, programs like Recovery Coach and Family Drug Courts make it possible to safely return many affected children.”

Effectiveness and cost savings. A 2012 in-depth program evaluation by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that parents with a TASC recovery coach were more likely to access treatment, and children whose parents had recovery coaches were more likely to be safely reunified with their parents.

Furthermore, children whose parents had recovery coaches were significantly less likely to be associated with a subsequent juvenile arrest.

In addition, according to the March 2015 semi-annual progress report released by DCFS, the Recovery Coach program has generated more than $10 million in savings for the State of Illinois since the program began in 2000. These savings come from significantly higher rates of family reunification, resulting in fewer youth in the system, as well as quicker reunification, resulting in fewer days spent in foster care.

TASC is a statewide, independent case management and care coordination agency in Illinois, annually serving 27,000 individuals referred by criminal justice, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems.

TASC VP George Williams Receives 7th Congressional District Heroes Award

(Chicago) – TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams was recognized by Illinois’ 7th Congressional District on February 8 for his service in the U.S. Armed Forces and as a community advocate.

At the awards ceremony in celebration of today’s heroes, Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL7) presented the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition to Williams for “outstanding and invaluable service to the community.”

As a U.S. Army veteran, Williams also has earned the National Defense Service Medal for his honorable military service.

The 7th Congressional District awards event, held at Clair Christian United Methodist Church in Chicago, also recognized other retired and active military personnel, police, firefighters, and first responders dedicated to community service and safety.

Williams joined TASC in 1990 and has held successive roles administering programs and promoting policies that address health needs and racial disparities among justice populations. Along with his responsibilities at TASC, Williams is co-chair of Congressman Davis’ Criminal Justice Reform Committee and Substance Abuse Advisory Committee. He also is a member of the Congressman’s committees on AIDS/HIV, Mental Health, and Public Safety.

Throughout his career, Williams has presented at numerous national and international conferences on issues related to criminal justice and addiction recovery. In 2012 he received an honorary Ph.D. in Urban Studies from IPAE-Midwest Bible College.

Congressman Danny Davis (left) honors TASC Vice President George Williams for outstanding service to the community.

Congressman Danny Davis (left) honors TASC Vice President George Williams for outstanding service to the community.


Association Recognizes Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Danny Davis, and IL Senators Mattie Hunter and Kwame Raoul for Racial Justice Efforts

(Chicago, IL) —The Illinois Association for Criminal Justice (IACJ) presented awards on March 18 to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Danny K. Davis and Illinois State Senators Mattie Hunter and Kwame Raoul for legislative leadership in criminal justice policy.

Left to right: Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul; IACJ Chair Diane Williams; Clarisol Duque on behalf of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin; Congressman Danny Davis; Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter; IACJ Vice-Chair Pamela Rodriguez. Photo by David Ormsby.

The association’s inaugural event, held at the Safer Foundation in Chicago, featured a room filled to capacity with audience members who lauded legislators for their commitment and sponsorship of key legislation to advance fairness in the justice system.

The association recognized Senator Durbin for authoring the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed into law in 2010 and reduces the sentencing disparity in the mandatory penalties for possession of crack versus powder cocaine.

IACJ awarded Congressman Davis for sponsoring the Second Chance Act, which provides federal seed grants for programs that assist individuals released from prison to successfully reenter society

Senators Hunter and Raoul also received the group’s recognition for state legislative drug crime reform efforts in Springfield. Hunter successfully sponsored the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission law that addresses racial disparities in justice system’s response to drug crimes.

Raoul won approval for Illinois Crime Reduction Act, a measure that invests in community-based solutions to non-violent, drug-related crime.

“At the heart of our mission, our goals are to advance criminal justice reforms that guarantee equality for all under the law, create safer communities, and reduce the financial burden of expensive and unnecessary incarceration on taxpayers,” said IACJ President Diane Williams. “Congressman Davis and Senators Durbin, Hunter and Raoul embody those goals.”

“Our mission is to ensure that services and public policies are in place that will reduce crime and restore individuals to stability and productivity in their communities,” said Pamela Rodriguez, president of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). “We’re here today because it’s vital to recognize legislative leaders when they take courageous stands in matters of fiscal responsibility and social justice. We care about these issues, we understand the impact of public policy in our communities, and we’re paying attention to what happens in Springfield and Washington.”

Founded in 2010, the mission of the Illinois Association for Criminal Justice (IACJ) is to ensure quality, comprehensive and coordinated services for people with criminal histories through the education of the public, advocacy, and community capacity building. TASC and the Safer Foundation are founding member organizations of IACJ.

IACJ to Honor U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Danny K. Davis, IL Senator Mattie Hunter and IL Senator Kwame Raoul for Criminal Justice and Racial Justice Legislation

(Chicago, IL) —  Supporters of criminal justice reform are invited to join the Illinois Association for Criminal Justice (IACJ) in honoring legislators who have demonstrated key leadership in advancing racial and criminal justice.

IACJ’s awards will be presented at the Safer Foundation, 571 W. Jackson Blvd. in Chicago on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 3:00 p.m.

  • The association will recognize the work of:U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, for sponsoring the Fair Sentencing Act, signed into law in 2010, which reduces the sentencing disparity in mandatory penalties for possession of crack versus powder cocaine. (Clarisol Duque, Chicago Director for the Office of Senator Durbin, will accept the award on the Senator’s behalf.)
  • U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis, for sponsoring the Second Chance Act, originally signed into law in 2008, which provides federal seed grants for programs that assist individuals released from prison to successfully reenter society.
  • IL State Senator Mattie Hunter, for leading the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, which addresses racial disparities in the justice system’s response to drug crimes.
  • IL State Senator Kwame Raoul, for sponsoring the Illinois Crime Reduction Act, which invests in community-based solutions to non-violent, drug-related crime.

Recognizing that corrections reform is at the top of state and federal policy agendas, IACJ will honor legislators whose leadership has been instrumental in improving policy. The awards will be presented by Diane Williams, chair of the IACJ board and president of the Safer Foundation, and Pamela Rodriguez, vice-chair of the IACJ board and president of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). The Safer Foundation and TASC are among the founding members of IACJ.

To confirm your attendance, please send an email with your name, title, and organization/affiliation to: Jon.Kaplan@SaferFoundation.org.


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.