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 Leaders Featured in 2014 National Drug Control Strategy and White House Video

(Chicago) –  TASC President Pamela F. Rodriguez and President Emeritus Melody M. Heaps are featured in the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy, released July 9 by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Rodriguez, TASC’s president and CEO since 2009, and Heaps, who founded the agency and led it for 33 years, were honored at the White House in March as Advocates for Action for their national leadership in advancing system-wide justice interventions for people with substance use disorders. Advocates for Action is an initiative by ONCDP to recognize individuals’ achievements in improving the health and safety of their communities by combating the cycle of drug use and crime.

“Pamela Rodriguez and Melody Heaps are re-designing the criminal justice system to break the cycle of addiction, arrest, and incarceration,” says the introduction to a new video on the White House website.

As witnesses to the societal impact of illicit drugs and criminal justice responses over the past 40 years, Rodriguez and Heaps provide a concise history of these issues in the 11-minute video. They discuss the origins of TASC, the generational influences of drugs and crime in communities, the importance of appropriately diverting people with substance use and mental health problems from the justice system into health services in the community, and the significant opportunities that the Affordable Care Act presents in reducing rates of mass incarceration and recidivism by increasing access to behavioral health treatment.

In addition, TASC’s work in supporting systemic change via evidence-based sentencing is profiled in the national strategy’s fourth chapter: Break the Cycle of Drug Use, Crime, Delinquency, and Incarceration. With funding from ONDCP, and along with a team of national partners, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice are working with national law enforcement leaders to provide training on the science of addiction and how this understanding can inform police practices and policies.

The National Drug Control Strategy is published annually and provides key strategies and successful models for reducing illicit drug use and its consequences.