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.)

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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.

TASC Joins Partners in West Side Heroin Task Force to Address Chicago’s Opiate Epidemic

(Chicago) – TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams joined other members of the new West Side Heroin Task Force assembled on International Overdose Awareness Day to announce findings of a study on the impact of heroin in Chicago’s west side neighborhoods.

The Roosevelt University study, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Heroin’s Impact on Chicago’s West Side,” found that while media coverage of the current epidemic has focused on “the new face of heroin”—white, suburban or rural users—the west side for many years has been ground zero of the crisis and its consequences.

“To continue to ignore the west side of Chicago is like a firefighter putting out a fire in part of the house and leaving the house burning,” said State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8) at the August 31 press conference. The task force, led by Ford and comprised of dozens of partners and organizations, including TASC, will support and intensify existing efforts in the fight against heroin.

Long considered to be a place where people with heroin addictions travel from the suburbs and other parts of Chicago to get their drugs and leave, “the city’s west side actually is a hotbed for heroin hospitalizations, arrests and deaths,” Roosevelt University’s news announced.

State Rep. Camille Y. Lilly, (D-78), vice president of external affairs at Loretto Hospital, highlighted broader community issues related to the heroin crisis. “The overdosing is the outcome of other factors and issues that are going on in our society. People are using drugs to deal with life, lack of jobs, lack of money, lack of housing, lack of healthcare,” she said. “Policy is what’s going to make the difference, and how we fund the policies that are enhancing the lives of individuals.”

Task force member Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, authored the study, which found that opioid-related hospital admissions of Chicagoans on the west side constitute almost one in four such hospitalizations across Illinois. Additionally, heroin possession arrest rates in these neighborhoods continue to exceed those in other parts of the city, even increasing during times of overall citywide decline.

Further, the study indicated that the Chicago metro area experienced the second greatest decline in publicly funded drug treatment admissions among all state metro areas, falling by 61 percent over the past 5 years.

The study found that recent heroin overdose rates were higher in Chicago than in suburban Cook, Will, Lake, McHenry, DuPage, and Kane counties, and the overdose mortality rate across the state was significantly higher for African Americans (8.94 per 100,000 population) than for whites (5.86).

The report includes recommendations to increase community-based treatment, reclassify drug possession related to small amounts as a misdemeanor offense, and provide medication-assisted treatment to individuals incarcerated in Cook County jail, among others.

Joining fellow task force members to release the report, Williams noted that the world is moving to a platform of public health, and not a criminal justice response to heroin addiction.

“Everyone deserves the right to their life and to live,” said Williams. “That’s why we need the necessary services that our state reps, particularly Representative Lilly and Representative Ford have fought for… to continue to make sure that the west side does not continue to be the epicenter, but the west side becomes the model of how the community has gathered together and interrupted men and women and families and communities losing their lives when it’s not necessary.”

Ford advocated that resources, services, and cutting-edge programs be directed to residents, and also encouraged funding for House Bill 1, a comprehensive measure to fight heroin.

In addition to Ford, Willis, and Williams, speakers at the press conference included Dr. Sonia Mehta, CEO of Loretto Hospital; Jacqui Colyer, regional administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services; Dr. Dan Lustig, vice president of clinical services at Haymarket Center; Jamelia Hand, overdose prevention advocate; Marianne Schiavone, chairperson of West Suburban Hospital; Doris Davenport, president of the Center of Community Connections; and Chelsea Laliberte, executive director of Live4Lali.

George A. H. Williams, TASC vice president of community and government affairs.

George A. H. Williams, TASC vice president of community and government affairs, speaking at the August 31, 2016 press conference.

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.