Lurie Children’s Hospital Launches Pilot Program to Help Curb Youth Violence in Chicago

News release from Strengthening Chicago’s Youth at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. TASC is proud to be a partner in this initiative.

(Chicago) –  Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, together with Cook County Juvenile Probation Department, TASC, the Illinois Collaboration on Youth and 10 community-based service providers, launched the Juvenile Justice Collaborative project. Up to 50 young people, ages 12 to 18, will be referred to the Collaborative to receive appropriate mental health and other services instead of spending time in the juvenile justice system.

“Everyone is asking for solutions to the city’s violence problem, and this initiative is a start,” said SCY Director Rebecca Levin, MPH. “Instead of putting these young people in detention, we want to keep them at home and give them the services that they need to get on a path to success.”

In the Juvenile Justice Collaborative, young people will be referred to a centralized intake and referral home which will assess their needs and risk level, and then be placed with the appropriate community-based provider. During the 6-month pilot program, referrals will come from probation officers. Examples of youth that could be referred include those who are arrested for car theft, drug possession or fighting. Re-arrests, school attendance and health status will be monitored and measured, and the program will be continually improved. In the future, the program could be expanded to accept referrals from other sources.

“We are pleased to support the launch of the Juvenile Justice Collaborative,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “I have long advocated for, and invested in, alternatives to detention for our young people. The Collaborative offers a coordinated approach to curbing youth violence and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

The 10 community service providers involved are Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center; BUILD, Inc.; Heartland (Human Care Services); Lawrence Hall; Maryville Academy; New Life/Urban Life Skills; SGA Youth & Family Services; UCAN; Youth Guidance; and Youth Outreach Services.

“These are our children, and we can pave a better path for them as a team and as a community,” said Hon. Timothy C. Evans, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, who oversees the Juvenile Probation and Court Services Department. “The partnership with Lurie Children’s Hospital, and the credibility it brings to the table as a Chicago institution, is an excellent addition to our probation department’s community-based diversion efforts. This program fits perfectly into our mission as a juvenile justice system.”

The Juvenile Justice Collaborative model is built on an extensive body of research regarding the most promising strategies to interrupt the trajectory of youth violence. As gaps in service level and location are identified, targeted youth service providers will be recruited to join the Collaborative.

“Too often our young people cycle repeatedly through the justice system without getting the help they need; this approach provides a positive alternative to place them in programs that will help set them on a path to future success in life,” said Kimberly Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney.

The Juvenile Justice Collaborative is supported in part by the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation; Cook County Justice Advisory Council through a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services; Michael Reese Health Trust; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois; The Crown Family; and The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund. Past support provided by Polk Bros. Foundation.

Advertisements

Sheriff Tom Dart, Bill O’Donnell Receive TASC Leadership Awards; Access to Healthcare and Recovery Highlighted at Annual Event

(Chicago) – TASC held its 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 10, honoring Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and entrepreneur Bill O’Donnell for their advocacy on behalf of people with mental health and substance use disorders.

“Sheriff Dart has called national attention to the injustice of using county jails to house people with mental health conditions,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award. “He has supported Medicaid enrollment and other activities to ensure continuity of care for people detained at the Cook County Jail.”

To the applause of more than 300 guests at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Dart reported that 12,000 people have successfully signed up for insurance at the jail via the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “People who never had insurance now have insurance,” he said. “It is absolutely amazing what this collective work has done.”

Since 2013, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, working with TASC and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, has enabled individuals detained at the jail to apply for health insurance. Prior to the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, the vast majority of people entering U.S. jails lacked insurance, hindering their access to treatment for chronic substance use and mental health conditions that often contribute to rearrest.

The prevalence of these conditions in the justice system is not new, Dart observed. “These are issues that have been around for a while. And it’s with partnerships, working with TASC, that we’ve been able to make incredible change.”

TASC Public Voice Award Recipient Bill O’Donnell noted that he might well have gone to jail for his behavior while he was in the throes of addiction. Coming from a family driven to “achieve, achieve, achieve,” O’Donnell was a successful businessman who became addicted to alcohol and cocaine in the 1970s.

“It wasn’t until I got into treatment the second or third time… that I ever asked myself the question, ‘Why is it that I even need the marijuana, the booze, the coke, to change the way I felt?’” O’Donnell recalled. “Recovery and life and awareness is an inside job. You get can get help, you can get direction, you can get love, you can get guidance—but it’s an inside job.”

O’Donnell went on to found Sierra Tucson in 1983, an internationally-recognized treatment center that was among the first to involve family members in the recovery process.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca praised O’Donnell for his openness and high-profile voice for recovery. “Twenty-three million are in long-term recovery in this country and it’s still the most stigmatized illness,” said Palanca. “Bill was one of the first corporate leaders to speak openly about his addiction. He is a powerful voice for recovery.”

The value of helping one another was highlighted in two videos accompanying speakers’ remarks. Dart introduced a video depicting personal stories of people who now have health insurance thanks to enrollment efforts at the jail, and Rodriguez presented a video featuring participants in Winners’ Circles, which are peer-led recovery support groups for people who have been involved in the justice system.

TASC has been engaged in initiatives at the intersection of health and social justice since 1976, explained TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright. “I believe that our highest human calling is to help others—directly, if possible, and if not possible, to support those who do, with whatever means and talents available to us,” said Curtwright, who is the associate vice provost for academic and enrollment services at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Among other dignitaries attending TASC’s event were previous honorees, including Gino DiVito, retired appellate court justice; Melody Heaps, TASC founder and president emeritus; and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Chairing TASC’s 2015 event committee was John Zielinski, vice president and financial advisor at William Blair, who, along with other volunteers and generous donors, guided TASC’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. Zielinski extended special thanks to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the presenting sponsor of the event, along with numerous other generous sponsors and raffle prize donors.

“TASC is successful because we work together,” said Rodriguez. “Thanks to science and treatment parity, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the efforts of TASC and our community partners, and especially thanks to all of you, more and more men and women are finding the treatment, the support, and the hope and tenacity needed to build and strengthen those delicate roots into lifetimes of recovery.”

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Award Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree Bill O'Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Photo by Uk Studio.

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Honoree Bill O’Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC's 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photo by Uk Studio.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC’s 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photos by Uk Studio.

Revision of Automatic Transfer Law Achieves Common Cause for Illinois Juvenile Justice Reform

OP-ED: During the 2015 spring legislative session, bi-partisan cooperation and compromise led to agreed upon changes to the Illinois criminal code, creating a fairer and more effective justice system for youth.

Accomplishments include a new reform, House Bill 3718, sponsored by State Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), which addresses one of the most critical issues in juvenile court—the treatment of children as adults in court.

In early August, Governor Bruce Rauner signed this bill into law, eliminating the automatic transfer of juvenile cases based solely on charges brought against them, and expanding judicial discretion to try juvenile cases in juvenile courts.

The new mandate, an initiative of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, expands the requirement of review by a juvenile court judge to examine relevant factors before transferring some cases to adult court. Specifically, the law, which takes effect on January 1, 2016, requires a juvenile court hearing in all cases involving children 15 and younger and in cases of older youth charged with particular crimes.

Currently, a prosecutor can automatically transfer a child to adult court—with no appearance before a juvenile court judge required—simply based on the charge lodged against them. As of January 1, for all children under 16, an individual review of the circumstances of the case as well as consideration of the rehabilitative services available in the juvenile court system will be required.

The automatic court transfer law has disproportionately affected children of color.

According to a report released by the Juvenile Justice Initiative, between 2010 and 2014, 580 children were transferred to adult court in Cook County, and of those, only 4 were white. In addition, 6-16 percent of the children transferred were later re-charged with a lesser offense that would have triggered no automatic transfer, but they remained in adult court. An earlier version of the report indicated that of the 257 children transferred between 2010 and 2012, more half of those convicted were either recharged before trial or plea or eventually found guilty of lesser offenses.

Moreover, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of research included a study finding that children tried in adult court had 34 percent more re-arrests than their counterparts tried in juvenile court, and other studies supported this finding. Further, the report indicated that strengthened transfer laws are “counterproductive to reducing juvenile violence and enhancing public safety.”

The reforms authorized by the legislature and approved by the Governor are in much better alignment with these findings.

By reducing the scope of the automatic transfer law, a legal relic of the 1980s, the Governor and lawmakers have endorsed the merit of judicial review and discretion on child transfer to adult court while preserving the authority to transfer a child and, in some instances, will still allow automatic transfer.

Next year, juvenile judges will individually consider transfer decisions for children ages 15-17 who are charged with armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and unlawful use of a weapon on school grounds. Children age 15 and younger charged with any crime will be entitled to judicial review. Youth ages 16-17 charged with serious offenses like murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated battery with a firearm will still be automatically transferred to adult court.

The new law seeks to restore some sense of legal decency and justice in the Illinois juvenile justice system that has been for far too long operating on automatic pilot when it came to decisions that bore on the future of an entire generation of principally African-American children.

By taking this critical step, the Governor and the legislature have jointly determined that in the Illinois juvenile justice system, the priority must be fairness.

Pam Rodriguez, president and CEO of TASC, is a member of the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Emanuel, Preckwinkle, TASC Chief Praise Holder Drug Sentencing Shift

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

(Chicago) – Chicago’s top elected officials and TASC today hailed the Justice Department’s decision to abandon charging certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences.

At a speech in San Francisco on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said accused individuals would be “charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”

In the Chicago, the reaction to Holder’s announcement was swift and positive.

“I commend President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for reforming the policy that imposes severe mandatory sentences on nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to gangs or organized crimes,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “Non-violent drug offenders are often better served by treatment and other options, freeing up law enforcement to focus their time and efforts on preventing violent crimes.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also welcomed Holder’s decision, while noting that people of color are hit hardest by punitive drug laws. Preckwinkle also urged the State of Illinois to follow suit.

“The mandatory minimum sentence policy has led to severe overcrowding in our prison system and swelled taxpayer spending on incarceration and detention.  These laws also disproportionately affect people of color,” said Preckwinkle in a statement. “It is my hope that this major shift in federal policy will make its way to the state and local government level as we strive to take a more effective and humane approach to criminal justice and crime prevention.”

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez echoed Emanuel and Preckwinkle’s sentiments.

“The Justice Department decision is a welcome and needed step in reforming our country’s criminal justice system,” said Rodriguez. “The decision recognizes the reality of criminal justice research that imprisoning non-violent drug offenders does little to nothing to blunt serious drug crime, but serves primarily to bleed taxpayers and communities of potentially productive citizens.”

Holder’s announcement comes on the heels on a batch of Illinois criminal justice reforms signed by Governor Pat Quinn on August 3 that include helping individuals sentenced for non-violent crimes to reenter the job market more easily.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: Bond Court Changes Will Save Taxpayer Dollars

(Chicago, IL) —  Under a new proposal by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the county could save on jail expenses by lowering the bail amounts for low-level, nonviolent defendants who are too poor to post bond.  Instead of incarcerating these pretrial detainees at $143 per person per day, the county could place them on electronic monitoring, thus maintaining public safety while saving taxpayer dollars.

The jail is currently crowded with 9,400 men and women. About 900 current pre-trial detainees charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses would qualify for the reduced bail under President Preckwinkle’s proposal.

Pamela Rodriguez, president of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), and Diane Williams, president of the Safer Foundation, championed the proposed changes to the bond process in a letter to the editor published by the Chicago Tribune on July 17.

Chicago Sun-Times Publishes TASC Letter to Editor Praising Preckwinkle’s Plan to Favor Drug Treatment over Jail

(Chicago, IL) — April 4, 2011. The Chicago Sun-Times yesterday published TASC President Pamela Rodriguez’s letter-to-the-editor highlighting and praising Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s focus on substance abuse treatment over jail for those struggling to recover from drug or alcohol addiction.

Dear Editor:

As a strategy to help close Cook County’s $487 million budget deficit while reducing crime, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wisely highlighted in her inaugural address a prominent role for substance abuse treatment as a cost-saving alternative to housing nonviolent drug users at the Cook County Jail.

“Currently, Cook County’s chronically overcrowded criminal justice system is a drain on the county’s budget and a threat to our public safety. As Cook County Board president, I will expand resources for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and provide treatment for addiction, educational classes and life skills training,” Preckwinkle said at her swearing-in ceremony.

Read the rest here …