Mental Health Court Celebrates 10 Years

(Chicago) — The Cook County Mental Health Court celebrated its 10-year anniversary on May 20, graduating three recent participants and lauding the successes of numerous past graduates.

Since its inception in 2004, the specialty court has served 663 people. It is unique in that it is specifically designed to serve felony probationers who have chronic mental health conditions, most of whom also have co-occurring substance dependencies.

The goal of the mental health court is to reduce repeated histories of arrest and incarceration among participants by providing comprehensive clinical services delivered by a coordinated team of partners.

“We’re here for a reason, and it’s not to lock everybody up,” said Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County. “This is important work, and it touches our souls watching people come back from challenging situations, beating drugs and mental illness. We’re very proud of them, and we congratulate today’s graduates.”

An estimated 20 percent of people entering the Cook County Jail suffer from serious mental illness, often with co-occurring substance use disorders and medical conditions.

Compared to the year before program involvement, the average number of arrests among participants during the first year of the program decreased by 80 percent, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. Additionally, the average number of days spent in jail dropped by 76 percent, resulting in estimated yearly savings to the county of almost $8 million.

Director of Specialty Courts and retired judge Lawrence Fox, along with Judge Biebel and TASC President Pamela Rodriguez, was instrumental in establishing the Cook County Mental Health Court, now operating in seven courtrooms across the county. Judge Fox commended the program for effectively diverting people from jail and saving lives and families.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the room — able to retire as a judge to work on these programs, instead of having to do the difficult work of putting people in prison,” said Judge Fox. “These courts are far and away the model courts for the country. The court system cares about these participants, and there’s no better work you can do than be part of helping people make changes in their lives.”

TASC Vice President of Operations Janelle Prueter spoke on behalf of TASC about how the program has helped hundreds of people involved in the criminal justice system to receive medical treatment and counseling instead of jail.

“Thanks to the judges for their vision and commitment to this work, and for ensuring that people with mental illness can be diverted from the system and get the help they need,” said Prueter. “Thanks to the clients, for the privilege of getting to do work and be of service to them. We honor the transformation they’ve achieved in their lives.”

Kimberly, who graduated from the program in 2009, was among several former clients who gave words of encouragement to the new graduates. With a former graduate and close friend standing at her side, she explained how the judge and TASC never gave up on her even when she seemed to lose all strength.

“I did TASC and was sober for six years,” said Kimberly. “But I didn’t want to face my other problems. I kept remembering TASC, and I called Pam (Ewing, TASC caseworker), and I got into Mental Health Court. And I realized they love me more than I love me. My advice to today’s graduates — when you fall down, never stay stuck.”

The mental health court was created in Cook County in 2004 as a plan for more effective and coordinated programs and services for people with mental illnesses. It focuses on facilitating communications and linking services across criminal justice, mental health and addiction treatment, and community services. Cook County’s program is distinctive because of its emphasis on systemic change, its selection of felony probationers with non-violent offenses as the target population, and its focus on post-adjudication services. It is funded by federal, state, and court grants.


Members of the Cook County Mental Health Court team (left to right): Director of Specialty Courts Judge Lawrence Fox; Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Cole; TASC Clinical Case Manager Rachel Wendt; Judge Thomas Gainer; Mental Health Probation Officer Michelle Hargon; TASC Clinical Supervisor Pam Ewing; and Judge Clayton Crane. (Photo: TASC)

Members of the Cook County Mental Health Court team (left to right): Director of Specialty Courts Judge Lawrence Fox; Assistant State’s Attorney Emily Cole; TASC Clinical Case Manager Rachel Wendt; Judge Thomas Gainer; Mental Health Probation Officer Michelle Hargon; TASC Clinical Supervisor Pam Ewing; and Judge Clayton Crane.
(Photo: TASC)





Christopher Kennedy Lawford: Addiction Doesn’t Discriminate; Opportunities for Treatment, Recovery Shouldn’t Either

(Chicago, IL) — “I was born in a family where addiction doesn’t just run – it gallops. We had fame, we had power, we had wealth. What we didn’t understand is that addiction ignores all that.”

This was the life of Christopher Kennedy Lawford, who shared his story of addiction recovery with more than 300 guests at TASC’s 2012 Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 12.

Lawford was in Chicago to accept TASC’s Public Voice Leadership Award, presented annually to an organization or person who has advanced the dialogue around addiction recovery and related public health issues. TASC also presented the agency’s signature Justice Leadership Award to Cook County Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. (Please see article highlighting Judge Biebel’s remarks.)

“As far-reaching and devastating as addiction and mental illness are, recovery is much more powerful,” said TASC Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Palanca in introducing Lawford. “Our 2012 Public Voice Award recipient is an individual who is well acquainted with the journey of recovery.”

Son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy Lawford, and nephew of John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s struggles with addiction are detailed in his bestselling book, Symptoms of Withdrawal. With more than 26 years in recovery now, Lawford is engaged in worldwide efforts to erode the stigma surrounding addiction, expand access to evidence-based treatment services, and promote the societal benefits of recovery. His latest work, Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction, has just been released.

In a luncheon ballroom filled with judges, service providers, community partners, individual and corporate donors, and TASC staff, Lawford’s remarks drew a standing ovation. Here is part of what he said:

It is an honor to be here and to be given this award by TASC, whom I’ve known about for a long, long time… I hear about them from my friends at the White House and the UN and everywhere. To be in this room and receiving an award from you is really meaningful.

From the moment I found drugs and alcohol, the only thing that mattered to me for the next 17 years was where I was going to get my next drink or my next drug. The world was suddenly not so scary. Better living through better chemistry became my credo. I didn’t feel like there was anything I couldn’t accomplish if my medicine cabinet – or yours – was fully stocked. Of course, it was an illusion.

Drug addiction took me to three jails and three intensive care units; landed me in newspapers and on the evening news; damaged and permanently scarred my liver, heart and lungs; significantly reduced the opportunities that I was lucky to be born with; drove away most of the worthwhile people in my life, leaving behind a posse of lower companions of drug dealers, pharmacists, and bartenders; and killed my best friend and my father. This is the road for many confronting the disease of drug addiction. I should have died many times but I didn’t. With desire and access to treatment, I lived and found my way into recovery.

Today, I speak out so people know that addiction is an equal opportunity disease, that recovery from addiction is possible, that recovery is not just about staying away from a drink, drug, or behavior a day at a time, but also about restoring and enhancing the lives of those afflicted as well as the lives of those around them. And I speak out to urge others to do the same, because the awareness that recovery is possible, along with the spreading knowledge that science has proven—that addiction is a brain illness—will help to dispel many of the myths, and much of the stigma surrounding diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

If you remember only three things from what I say today, it should be the following:

The first is that in order to make a difference in the lives of those suffering with drug dependency, we need to address the structural and moral obstacles that stigmatize and discriminate against those who need our assistance.

Second is that we know drug treatment works. There is an undeniable body of research, evidence, and practice that can make a difference, if allowed. Drug treatment services should be available to all, just as we treat other chronic illnesses.

Third, it is imperative that we stay focused on and address the underlying societal causes and conditions that lock people in the hopelessness and despair of the addictive cycle, keeping their recovery illusory and unattainable.

The challenge before us lies in creating long-term, sustainable change to provide a means of helping those who need it most.

I applaud those of you on the front lines of TASC and other agencies, battling to bring services to those in need. Drug dependence is destroying the very fabric of society, present and future. So why, given the tremendous need and availability of proven treatment protocols, do we continue to struggle with having treatment investments commensurate to their importance? We need to fundamentally see the issue of addiction through a different set of lenses. We need to see it devoid of stigma and discrimination. We need to see it as a health issue, and not just a criminal justice issue… We need to reject the dichotomy of treatment versus enforcement, since we know that done right, the criminal justice and health systems can work together harmoniously. We’ve seen that here today with the work of Judge Biebel and TASC.

Punishment and prison rarely work as an effective response to someone with a drug addiction, and can have lasting impacts on the family. We know that drug problems don’t discriminate and can happen to anyone and any family. Drug users are often among society’s most scorned and shunned. Many in our world believe those struggling with addiction have no willpower or are morally noncommittal, are a drain on our society. I’ll tell you what. You show me someone who has battled a drug dependency for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, and lived to tell their story, and I’ll show you one tough, willful, committed human being whose recovery can be a benefit to society.

The journey to recovery is not linear or predictable, and it isn’t easy, but it is possible, and millions have and will recover, but they need our help and our understanding. They need access to programs that are based on evidence, not on ideology. They need to know that they can reach out without fear, ridicule, persecution, or worse – violence. They need to know that they can once again become productive members of society, that society values them and wants them back. We must build awareness that sustained and positive outcomes from treatment and assistance requires the community to accept people back into their community, and understand the importance of meaningful work as a critical part of that acceptance. There are many who have been saved from the ravages of addiction and return to productive and meaningful lives.

My journey to recovery started well before I stopped using drugs. It began when I knew I had a problem and began my struggle to do something about it. I may have appeared lost, but from the moment I understood what my problem was, I was looking for the solution. The fact that it took someone like me—who had all the resources and desire to get better as long as it did—reflects the immense challenge facing anyone with the courage and the will to confront this illness.

In many places in our world, there is little to no access to quality care, and where there is, it often lacks the effective integration within the health care system. As a result, people face considerable gaps in services and barriers to accessing the help they need.

It took me nine years of trying before I found my way to recovery. During that time, I tried everything possible to stop using drugs and alcohol and nothing had worked. And if you had met me back then, you might have thought to yourself, “You know, that Chris Lawford sure is a nice guy, and he’s tried really hard to do something about his problem, but he’s probably going to die.” Indeed, this is often the headline related to addiction – that any effort or investment is squandered… Standing here today before you, 26 years in recovery, I can tell you emphatically that this is not true.

Access to treatment and care doesn’t only make good health sense, it makes good economic sense. Put simply, treatment improves health outcomes and fosters healthier individuals, families, and communities while lowering the social and economic costs of addiction… An individual in recovery contributes to society economically and in many other ways. One of the most profound ways occurs in families… One of the great gifts of recovery is breaking the chain of addiction in a family. A father or mother in recovery will have a profound effect on what kind of life their children will have, on whether or not their dreams will come true.

We simply cannot ignore the complex interplay between biology and life experiences when it comes to this illness. One would not look at my life and necessarily think of the underlying societal stresses that contribute to drug dependence, but they were there.

My uncles John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were political figures, but they were family members first. Both of them were murdered. And that violence contributed to the onset of my drug dependence as well as others in my family. I was 12 years old when my uncle Bobby was killed running for the presidency of this country. I had no idea at that time that a 12-year-old kid with a genetic predisposition toward this illness, who suffers trauma in their adolescence, is much more susceptible to this disease later in life.

There are millions of children throughout the world who are victimized by societal forces they have no power to control – forces that can have a great impact on whether they become addicts in later life.

Addiction may be an equal opportunity disease, but that does not mean that those who recover have the same equality of opportunity when it comes to the life they come back to in recovery. There are millions of us who are not only ravaged by addiction, but who are also ravaged by the circumstances of their lives… There is much to do. I am committed in my work to develop innovative ways of bringing better circumstances to more people in recovery, to raise awareness, reduce stigma and discrimination, calling for society to treat this illness the same way it treats other chronic diseases, while making that treatment affordable and universal.

I am grateful to TASC for their courage, their leadership, and their vision when it comes to confronting this most complex health issue. Their example challenges and inspires me and I hope many others in the world to do more, and to do better. I have no doubt that if we do, we will impact many lives.

My Uncle Jack Kennedy, President Kennedy, said the true measure of a nation is its success in fulfilling the promise of a better life for each of its members. Let this be our measure too, to strive to fulfill the promise of a better life through access to treatment and care for the millions suffering from drug dependence throughout the world.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford Accepts TASC's 2012 Public Voice Leadership Award.  Left to right: TASC Executive VP Peter Palanca, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, TASC President Pamela Rodriguez, TASC Board Chair Jim Durkan

Christopher Kennedy Lawford Accepts TASC’s 2012 Public Voice Leadership Award. Left to right: TASC Executive VP Peter Palanca, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, TASC President Pamela Rodriguez, TASC Board Chair Jim Durkan

Presiding Judge Paul Biebel Discusses Cook County Court Response to Drug and Mental Health Problems

(Chicago, IL) — Mental illness, post-traumatic stress, and drug problems are among the clinical issues that disproportionately affect criminal defendants in courtrooms across the country. On December 12, the Honorable Paul P. Biebel, Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Court of Cook County, discussed the scope of these challenges. He also presented innovative court solutions that are being implemented with great success.

Judge Biebel offered his remarks at TASC’s Leadership Awards Luncheon at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where he accepted the agency’s 2012 Justice Leadership Award.

This is the second of three posts on TASC’s annual event, which was highlighted by the words and wisdom of TASC’s 2012 honorees, Judge Paul Biebel and Christopher Kennedy Lawford.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez introduced Judge Biebel, noting that he was one of the first judges in the country to support mental health courts not only for misdemeanants, but for non-violent felony offenders whose co-occurring mental health and addiction issues have led to their repeated arrests and re-incarceration. The Cook County Mental Health Court was launched in 2004 following early discussions between Judge Biebel, Judge Lawrence Fox, and TASC, followed by extensive planning and community engagement. It has demonstrated significant success in reducing recidivism among those whose health issues are the most challenging to treat.

“Judge Biebel supported felony mental health courts before anyone in the country,” Rodriguez said.  “He draws upon the strengths of partners and clinical experts and researchers, bringing individuals and organizations to the table who represent not only criminal justice interests, but also health, family, and community concerns.”

Judge Biebel accepted his award on behalf of the dedicated judges and court personnel who staff the 19 problem-solving courts in Cook County. Below are excerpts from his remarks, which began with appreciation for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, TASC, and all the assembled guests:

I am particularly honored to receive this award from TASC. They have been a critical partner to deal with drug and mental health issues in our courts.

I’d like to paint a picture of the challenges facing us in Chicago with regard to criminal justice, and most particularly with drug issues and mental health issues.

First, to put it in perspective, this is a massive operation we have here in Cook County, the largest unified court system in the world. I’m one of 420 judges, and one of 17 presiding judges. I have nearly 50 judges who work with me in the criminal division…

We have the largest and busiest criminal courthouse in the United States at 26th and California. This year we expect to have more than 22,000 felony dispositions…

Let me give you some facts that I think will paint the picture.

FACT:  72% of those arrested or who check in to that county jail behind our building have some evidence of illegal drugs in their system.

FACT:  Nearly 100,000 people proceed through that jail system every year.

FACT:  The drug trade in Chicago now is entirely controlled by the street gangs.

FACT:  The Chicago police say there are nearly 100,000 gang members in Chicago. The only other town that would resemble that would be Los Angeles.

FACT:  The profits from the sale of drugs are enormous. It is estimated that in Chicago alone, in a given year, the profits from drugs exceed one billion dollars.

Is it no wonder that in the last six years in Mexico, some 60,000 people have been killed in fights among and between drug cartels? Is it in fact no wonder that the money that is being used to fight the Americans in Afghanistan comes from the sale of heroin in this country because the essential ingredient, poppies, is grown in Afghanistan?

FACT: The number of mentally ill in our jails and prisons in the United States is shockingly high. If you take a study of the American population, 4 to 6 percent of the American population has a chronic mental illness – a mental illness that requires psychotropic medication… I’m talking about something where you cannot live without your meds – bipolar disorder, clinical depression, schizoaffective disorder. In the jail and prison context, that number spikes to 16 to 20 percent – and I think that’s low.

In the County Jail, of the women who are there, 80 percent have a chronic mental illness. And what is it? Post-traumatic stress—because they have been sexually abused as girls or young women. And 80 percent of the women in that jail are the sole caretakers of their children. Look at the societal cost that is paid when they average four or five kids.

Shocking statistic: The three largest mental hospitals in America are in municipal jails. The largest is Los Angeles County Jail, the second is here in Chicago—the Cook County Jail—and third is Rikers Island Jail in New York.

Today, in Cook County Jail, there are over 1700 people on psychotropic medication, out of somewhere more than 9,000 people in the population of the jail.

And the statistic that really hits me between the eyes:

FACT:  If you get out of jail or prison today, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll be back in three years.

We’re recycling people at a very expensive rate and a high cost in human terms.

These facts and figures indicate in stark fashion the challenges that we face in the criminal justice system. But in the in the last decade or so, we in Cook County have created perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching problem-solving court system of any county in America… We’re very proud of that and we’re very grateful for our wonderful partners in that effort, and one of the most important being our friends at TASC. Thank you, Pam, and thank everybody from TASC.

Our effort in regard to these persons in these problem-solving courts is a human/humane issue. What we’re trying to do is give persons who are willing to try to break free from the ravages of drugs or mental illness, for whatever reason, a chance to do that. And courts have a unique ability in this regard since the alternative to coerced cleanliness is prison…  These courts of coercion—and that’s a word of specific usage—these courts of coercion work. And literally save lives. And greatly reduce recidivism.

The story of Christopher Kennedy Lawford is a story of courage, redemption, assistance from family… friends, and [support groups]. He has removed the 800-pound gorilla from his back but he didn’t do it alone. We hear those same, basic stories of success in our problem-solving courts.

We are blessed to be part of the success that we have experienced, a success of redemption, a success that touches our souls. Thank you for this wonderful award.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez (left) and Board Chair Jim Durkan (right) present TASC's 2012 Justice Leadership Award to the Honorable Paul P. Biebel, Jr.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez (left) and Board Chair Jim Durkan (right) present TASC’s 2012 Justice Leadership Award to the Honorable Paul P. Biebel, Jr.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Judge Paul Biebel Accept TASC Leadership Awards; Highlight Necessity of Drug Treatment, Mental Health Treatment, and Recovery Services

(Chicago, IL) — TASC’s 2012 Leadership Awards Luncheon honored two individuals whose remarks enthralled the room of more than 300 guests at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago on December 12.

Cook County Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. and Christopher Kennedy Lawford accepted TASC’s 2012 leadership awards for their strong and persistent support of programs and policies that advance opportunities for health and recovery. This article is the first of three that will be posted this week, with coming posts featuring substantial portions of Judge Beibel’s and Chris Lawford’s informative and inspiring remarks.

TASC Board Chairman Jim Durkan opened TASC’s annual affair with appreciation for “individuals gathered from diverse backgrounds, occupations, and beliefs, coming together to celebrate the work of TASC and the wonderful reality of lasting and real recovery.”

Moving stories of recovery were shared in a video created for the event.  Raymond, a former TASC client who was incarcerated multiple times before finding recovery, said, “I have two sons that I had not seen during the horrors of my addiction. TASC helped me reunite with my sons.”

Another former client, Sara, spoke of the how an understanding of past trauma helped her on her path to recovery and a new life. “The things that I’ve done in my past don’t have to be the things that define me today,” she said.

Former client Victor added that going through TASC isn’t easy, but, “It’s not the end of the world. As a matter of fact, it’s the beginning of life.”

The successes of thousands of TASC clients across Illinois are made possible by the efforts of multiple individuals and entities in Illinois and nationally. TASC President Pamela Rodriguez thanked TASC’s many partners, from service providers to justice administrators to policymakers, along with the agency’s staff and board of directors. She offered express gratitude for TASC’s generous donors, including lead sponsors HAS (Healthcare Alternative Systems), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, and BMO Harris Bank.


Left to right: TASC VP and CFO Roy Fesmire; TASC VP of Operations Carolyn Ross; Christopher Kennedy Lawford; Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr.; TASC President Pamela Rodriguez; TASC VP of Community and Government Affairs George Williams; TASC Executive VP and COO Peter Palanca

In presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award to Judge Biebel, Rodriguez explained that award recipients are men and women who fight for fairness, embrace new learning, create new partnerships, and lead change.

“I personally have known Judge Biebel for more than a decade,” she said, “and have seen first-hand the grace and care with which he administers the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the largest unified court system in the United States.

“He supported felony mental health courts before anyone else in the country… He commits himself to understanding neuroscience and the complex variables that contribute to addiction, mental illness, and criminal behavior, and he pursues science-based solutions that serve both public safety and public health. Most importantly, he demonstrates a genuine care for those who come through his courtrooms, and a commitment to fairness and rehabilitation as key elements of ensuring justice.”

Accepting TASC’s award, Judge Biebel offered statistics illustrating the magnitude of challenges that addiction, mental illness, and trauma place on the courts. For example, seven out of ten Cook County arrestees test positive for illicit drugs. In the Cook County Jail, among a population of around 9,000, there are more than 1,700 people on psychotropic medication. In response to these challenges, said Judge Biebel, “We in Cook County have created perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching problem-solving court system of any county in America. We’re very proud of that and we’re very grateful for our wonderful partners in that effort, and one of the most important being our friends at TASC.”

Following a standing ovation to honor Judge Biebel, TASC Executive Vice President and COO Peter Palanca introduced Christopher Kennedy Lawford as TASC’s 2012 Public Voice Leadership Award recipient. “For change to happen anywhere people must speak up,” Palanca said. “This is particularly true regarding issues that often carry stigma—such as substance abuse, mental illness, racial injustice, discrimination, and criminal justice involvement.”

As the son of actor Peter Lawford and nephew of John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford grew up in the public eye. With both a genetic predisposition to addiction and a childhood in which two of his beloved uncles were murdered, he eventually succumbed to his own addiction. But Lawford’s story doesn’t end there. He has been in recovery for more than 26 years, and now works in partnership with government, businesses, and social service organizations worldwide to expand access to addiction and mental health treatment and research, and to promote the positive power and reality of recovery.

“Drug dependence is destroying the very fabric of society, present and future,” Lawford said. “So why, given the tremendous need and availability of proven treatment protocols, do we continue to struggle with having treatment investments commensurate to their importance? We need to fundamentally see the issue of addiction through a different set of lenses. We need to see it devoid of stigma and discrimination. We need to see it as a health—and not just a criminal justice—issue.

“We need to reject the dichotomy of treatment versus enforcement, since we know that done right, the criminal justice and health systems can work together harmoniously. We’ve seen that here today with the work of Justice Biebel and TASC.”

Lawford shared his personal journey of trauma, addiction, and recovery. He emphasized the importance of reducing societal stigma and discrimination, which persist as barriers to effective diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.  Everyone in the room rose to applaud as Lawford accepted his award. The luncheon ended with TASC’s popular drawing for donated raffle prizes, and both Judge Biebel and Chris Lawford stayed long afterwards to speak with guests.

TASC offers sincere thanks to our gracious honorees, all our luncheon guests, our board of directors, staff, and our many donors for your very generous support of our work.  Please mark your calendars for our 2013 luncheon, which will take place in Chicago on December 11.

Why Systems Matter: Are They Helping or Hurting Communities?

The following column by TASC President Pamela Rodriguez appears in TASC’s Fall/Winter 2012 News & Views:

As a social work student at the University of Chicago 32 years ago, I learned that the way our society operates, and the means through which we create or deny opportunities to people, depends largely on our systems.

“Systems” is one of those bureaucratic terms used in grad school.  And yet, we must understand them as essential to the creation of a fair and just society, where all people have opportunities for education, health, and equal justice under the law.

Without clear oversight and analysis of trends and consequences, systems may grow to the point of over-reach. Drug policies in the U.S. have fertilized the growth of the criminal justice system for the past 30 years.

From mandatory minimum sentences to funding that favors incarceration over rehabilitation, our society pours more and more people into courtrooms, jails, and prisons in this country than any other country in the world.

These costly trends not only tear apart families and communities, but they break states’ budgets as well.  According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers and reported by the Pew Center, states increased their collective spending on corrections by 315% between 1987 and 2007. Adjusted to 2007 dollars, state corrections costs rose 127% while spending on higher education increased only 21 percent in the same period.

These incarceration trends do not need to continue. We can change our systems.

What was true three decades ago—my lessons from grad school—was the notion that government was the sole keeper of our systems.  Today, there is greater attention on public-private partnerships, whether the topic is education, health care, or criminal justice. Exactly whether and how these partnerships will improve our public systems—and improve outcomes for the people at the heart of these systems—remains to be seen and is a debate for another day.  But what we know right now is that we cannot allow the profit interests of the private sector, nor the self-perpetuating nature of large public systems, to dictate the parameters of justice in our country.

When private interests involve profit, or when partners within the system seek unlimited growth, the notions of justice will tilt.

Justice is not about growth. It is not about profit. It is about ensuring the fair and appropriate dispensation of sanctions to carry out public safety.

TASC is engaged in a number of projects and initiatives to inform and improve sound systems.  For instance, we staffed the Disproportionate Justice Impact Study (DJIS) Commission, which pointed out racial and ethnic inequities in the application of state drug laws. As a follow-up to DJIS Commission recommendations, we staffed the Racial and Ethnic Impact Research Task Force, which focused on improved data collection methods to inform fair justice processes.

In partnership with the National Judicial College, we are leading the Justice Leaders Systems Change Initiative, through which we train jurisdictions across the country on science-based responses to addiction-driven crime. Through a grant from The Chicago Community Trust, and under the leadership of Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr., we are facilitating a structured planning process to improve health care access for people under justice supervision in Cook County.

As we work to change and improve systems, we are guided by our core values. The principles of fairness and justice have not changed in my 32 years in social service, and they continue to guide us at TASC.

We care about fairness. We care about opportunity. And to our core, we care about the people affected by systems, and whether those systems are hurting or helping people and communities. With your support and partnership, we will continue to strive for community health and public safety achieved by means other than the over-expansion of correctional systems.  These are the lessons we live by.

To read TASC’s Fall/Winter 2012 News & Views, please click here.

Judge Paul Biebel and Christopher Kennedy Lawford to Receive TASC’s 2012 Leadership Awards

(Chicago, IL)TASC, Inc. is pleased to announce that Cook County Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. and author Christopher Kennedy Lawford will be honored at the organization’s annual Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 12.

Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr.

TASC will present its Justice Leadership Award to The Honorable Paul P. Biebel, Jr. for championing collaboration and science as critical tools for advancing improved criminal justice practices. As presiding judge of the Criminal Division in Cook County, the largest unified court system in the United States, Judge Biebel engages community service providers and clinical experts to help confront the pervasive challenges that addiction and mental health problems impose on justice systems. He has led the implementation of problem-solving courts and clinically specialized probation for people with substance abuse and mental health problems, and continues to engage health scientists and community partners in addressing the complex variables that contribute to criminal behavior. Judge Biebel is widely respected for his commitment to science-based solutions that serve both public safety and public health.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford

TASC will present its Public Voice Leadership Award to Christopher Kennedy Lawford for his tireless work to promote recovery worldwide. Committed to bringing forth knowledge and enlightenment over myths and misinformation, he works in partnership with international health organizations, the US government, Fortune 500 companies, and numerous non-profit groups to advance the dialogue around addiction and other complex public health issues.  In recovery from addiction for more than 26 years, he is the author of two New York Times bestselling books, Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption (2005) and Moments of Clarity: Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery (2009). He has also published Healing Hepatitis C (2009) and his newest work, Recover to Live, Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction, is forthcoming.

TASC serves adults and youth across Illinois who have alcohol, drug, or mental health problems and who are involved in courts, jails, prisons, or foster care. Founded in Cook County in 1976, TASC has a long tradition of client advocacy and success. Individuals who receive the agency’s case management services, including continuing supervision and support, are twice as successful in completing treatment those who do not receive these services.

TASC’s December 12 luncheon will take place at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago. To help sponsor the 2012 luncheon or to reserve tickets, please click here.

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.