Op-Ed by TASC President: Cook County State’s Attorney Report “Bold and Refreshing”

The new data report issued by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is a bold and refreshing step toward transparency in government and criminal justice reform. For the lead prosecutor of a major county to offer such a wealth of useful and important information is practically unheard of anywhere in the country.

The report offers a snapshot of who is coming into the justice system and how cases are processed. By presenting data on more than 30,000 cases—including breakdowns of offense charges, case dispositions, sentences, and demographic information—the report offers a trove of vital information that will help inform and shape future policy and program directions. 

We must also mention the leading role the State’s Attorney’s Office takes in diverting people out of the system who need not be in it.

Working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) helped divert more than 3,000 men and women out of the front end of the justice system last year through the Cook County Deferred Prosecution Program and First-Time Offender Drug Diversion Program. In each of these programs, individuals volunteer to participate in intensive services or classes, and may be eligible to have their charges dropped or expunged once they successfully complete the program requirements. 

These and similar alternative prosecution programs help relieve pressure on the justice system, save taxpayer dollars, and often give participants the opportunity to address their behavior and avoid further entanglement with the justice system.

We applaud Kim Foxx for her leadership, and are proud to work with her office to advance and accelerate efforts towards a better system of justice.

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.

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International Policy Experts Visit TASC, Explore Alternatives to Incarceration

(Chicago) – Highlighting the value of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration for people with substance use disorders, TASC hosted a three-day visit last week of representatives from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the U.S. State Department, the Organization of American States, and the judiciary of India.

Through conversations and site visits with justice and service partners in Cook and Lake counties, the visit highlighted the necessity of coordinated linkages between public health and justice systems.

In Illinois, TASC serves some 27,000 people each year by serving as a bridge between public systems and health services in the community.

“By the nature of what we do at TASC, and by the very definition of case management, we know that we cannot do our work alone,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “Our successes come about through the combined efforts of partners who design and implement sound policies and practices every day.”

Partnerships highlighted during last week’s visit included prosecutorial diversion programs led by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office; strategies led by the Cook County Public Defender’s Office; Lake County’s A Way Out initiative organized by police, prosecutors, and the health department; Medicaid enrollment, treatment, and continuity of care at the point of release from jail, led by the Cook County Department of Corrections; alternative sentencing and problem-solving courts within the criminal division of the Circuit Court of Cook County; and community-based treatment, along with TASC case management.

The purpose of the visit was to highlight core components and strategies of successful alternatives to incarceration for people with substance use disorders. The team of visitors included Charlotte A. Sisson, senior foreign affairs officer with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) at the U.S. Department of State; Richard Baum, international division director with ONDCP; Antonio Lomba, acting chief of the Institutional Strengthening and Policy Coordination Section with the Organization of American States; and Chritharth Palli, law clerk to Justice T.S.Thakur, 43rd Chief Justice of India. Melody M. Heaps, president of MMH & Associates, worked closely with Rodriguez and TASC leaders to plan the visit.

For more than a decade, TASC has worked with federal and international partners to promote community-based systems of addiction recovery around the world. Through the leadership and support of INL, TASC Vice President George Williams has led curriculum development and week-long training events provided by TASC teams in South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Rodriguez and Williams direct TASC’s international activities, working alongside partners at INL, ONDCP, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the Colombo Plan, and MMH & Associates.

Together, these entities share the goal of reducing substance use disorders and their consequences worldwide.

Rodriguez noted that local strategies and successes can elevate conversations at national and international levels. “We are grateful for the tremendous partnerships in Cook and Lake counties that showcase what system-wide interventions can do,” said Rodriguez. “It is gratifying to know that our work here can have an impact for families and communities around the world.”

TASC and partners welcomed guests from international agencies for a three-day site visit focused on diversion initiatives, jail interventions, and sentencing alternatives in Cook and Lake counties. Left to right: Charlotte Sisson, U.S. State Dept.; George Williams, TASC; Richard Baum, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Antonio Lomba, Organization of American States; Chritharth Palli, India judiciary; Pamela F. Rodriguez, TASC; Dr. Nneka Jones-Tapia, Cook County Dept. of Corrections; Melody M Heaps, MMH & Associates

Sept. 14-16, 2016: TASC and partners welcomed guests from international agencies for a three-day site visit focused on diversion initiatives, jail interventions, and sentencing alternatives in Cook and Lake counties. Left to right: Charlotte Sisson, U.S. State Dept.; George Williams, TASC; Richard Baum, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Chritharth Palli, India judiciary; Pam Rodriguez, TASC; Dr. Nneka Jones-Tapia, Cook County Dept. of Corrections; Melody M. Heaps, MMH & Associates; Antonio Lomba, Organization of American States.

 

TASC President Pam Rodriguez (center) describes the roles of case management in connecting justice systems to services in the community.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez (center) describes the roles of case management in connecting justice systems to services in the community.

New Study Shows Mental Illness Prevalent in Jail Populations; Cook County Mental Health Court Offers Solutions

(Chicago, IL) — Nearly a third of women entering jail have a serious mental illness, according to a study released June 1 by the nonpartisan Council of State Governments Justice Center and Policy Research Associates.

Thirty-one percent of women and 14.5 percent of males —or 16.9 percent overall—were found to have serious mental illness with a need for comprehensive and continuous treatment, according to the report.

These estimates are three to six times higher than the general population, and indicate that as many as two million bookings of people with serious mental illnesses may occur each year. The findings, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, underscore the necessity of addressing the health needs of individuals with mental illnesses.

COOK COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH COURT TEAM.  Front, left to right: TASC Case Managers Dion Graham and

COOK COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH COURT TEAM *

In Cook County (IL), a national model Mental Health Court continues to impress five years after its inception.

Mental Health Court graduates are being arrested less and are spending fewer days in police custody, saving the public $275,000 per graduate in reduced custody costs, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.  A year after graduation, felony arrests for Mental Health Court graduates dropped by 93 percent and felony convictions decreased by 96 percent.

On May 12, the court recognized 15 new graduates at a commencement ceremony, bringing to 55 the total number of people who have successfully completed the program.

Mental Health Court is a two-year, voluntary probation program for offenders who have drug addictions and serious, chronic mental health problems. Participants receive psychiatric treatment, intensive supervision, TASC case management, and other rehabilitative services from a team of professionals comprised of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, police, social workers, case managers, and mental health and drug treatment providers.

“The program keeps getting better,” said Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. of the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, who played a crucial leadership role in establishing the court. “We work with more difficult clients from year to year, and, because of the expertise and commitment of this extraordinary team, the results keep improving.”

Pictured:  Front, left to right: TASC Case Managers Dion Graham and Pamela Ewing, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Clayton J. Crane. Back, left to right: Cook County Adult Probation Officer Michelle Hargon, TASC Case Manager Kyle Higgins, TASC Supervisor Al Pizza, Judge Thomas V. Gainer, Jr., and Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr.   Not pictured: Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys Emily Cole and Rebecca Quintero; Cook County Assistant Public Defenders Michelle Hendrickson and Paru Desai; and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Director of Treatment Programs Mark Kammerer, plus community-based mental health and drug treatment providers.