Honorees at TASC 2018 Leadership Awards Luncheon: This is Just the Beginning

(Chicago) –  TASC’s 2018 Leadership Award recipients—action-driven change agents forging new pathways within their professions—humbly echoed similar themes as they accepted their awards at the agency’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 12: Thank you, but this is just the beginning. There is much work to be done.

Bringing 250-plus guests to their feet at the Westin Michigan Avenue after their remarks, Dixon City Manager and former Police Chief Danny Langloss, Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther, and Chicago Beyond Leader in Residence Dr. Nneka Tapia each offered inspiring perspectives on bringing about a healthier, more just society.

Justice Leadership Awards

“Addiction and mental illness are two of the most critical issues facing every community,” said Langloss, who initiated the Safe Passage law enforcement deflection program in Dixon and Lee counties.

Pointing out that 50,000 people in the US lost their lives to overdose in 2016, and 72,000 more died in 2017, he urged, “This is unacceptable. This is a public health epidemic that we cannot arrest our way out of. Behind every death, there is a family. There is a son or a daughter. There is a husband or a wife. There is a mom or a dad. And I’ll tell you—if you’ve never done a death notification, where you go out and tell somebody for the first time that their loved one has died—it is something you’d never want to do. I’ve done this more than 50 times. This is being done across our country 72,000 times a year. It has to change.”

In presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Awards, TASC President Pam Rodriguez praised Langloss and Guenther for taking action to stop cycles of addiction, arrest, and incarceration. “They didn’t close their eyes to the realities in front of them. Nor did they fall back on traditional law enforcement responses to drug use. Instead, they pioneered new pathways to recovery. A better way. Rather than arresting people who have overdosed or have a drug problem, they are deflecting people to treatment.”

“Substance use disorder grabs people,” said Langloss. “This is a chronic, relapsing disease. The pathway to recovery is a process; it is not an event… As we reshape this war on drugs—this failed war on drugs—we have to take a community-based approach,” he said, invoking the need for public health officials, doctors, police, faith-based partners, and people in recovery to collaborate in deflection initiatives. “This is a smart-on-crime approach. This is one of the greatest, proactive crime-fighting opportunities that we have.”

Justice Award honoree Guenther, who co-created Lake County’s A Way Out program and is an instrumental partner in the Lake County Opioid Initiative, also lauded the value of deflection. “This is actually a smart approach to crime reduction. If we can identify portions of our population that chronically commit crimes that are associated with a number of behavioral health issues—and work at helping them with those behavioral health issues—then we are actually addressing the root cause and the true origin of crime.”

Over 23 years in law enforcement, Guenther noted that in interviewing hundreds of candidates, the response to ‘Why do you want to be a police officer?’ is invariably a version of, ‘Because I want to help people.’

“Deflection makes sense for a number of reasons,” Guenther continued. “Decreasing crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates, saving taxpayer dollars, lessening the burden on the criminal justice system. But probably most important, it reinforces for thousands of us why we said we wanted to be police officers: because we wanted to help people. Not some people. All people.”

He implored attendees to hold public officials accountable for looking at their professions and figuring out better ways to be successful. “Is that not my job?” he asked. “Reform to me is an opportunity for me to change my profession and to give back to the people that I swore I would help.”

Together with TASC, Chiefs Guenther and Langloss spearheaded Senate Bill 3023, which authorizes and encourages the implementation of pre-arrest diversion programs across Illinois. The first bill of its kind in the country, it was signed into law in August.

Public Voice Leadership Award

“When it comes to understanding the impact of addiction and trauma on families, and the need for comprehensive responses, few people have the depth of understanding and compassion that our Public Voice Leadership honoree has,” Rodriguez said in introducing TASC’s 2018 Public Voice Leadership Award. “Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia is a true role model when it comes to cross-systems collaboration.”

As executive director at the Cook County Department of Corrections, Tapia and her team were critical partners in bringing the Supportive Release Center into being. Her singular expertise as both a psychologist and corrections executive has made her a recognized and passionate advocate for mental wellness, criminal justice reform, and interventions for youth. Today she is working with Chicago Beyond to advance trauma-informed care for young people impacted by violence and parental incarceration, in order to help them achieve their full potential.

“When I first learned that I was receiving the Public Voice Leadership Award, I started to think about the thousands of Chicago voices that are muted, the thousands of Chicago voices that we don’t allow ourselves to hear,” offered Tapia as she accepted her award. “These are the mothers and the fathers and the sons and daughters that end up in our criminal justice system, that end up in our emergency rooms, and that end up on a 911 call. And then I started to think, what would it look like—what would Chicago look like—if we heard those voices before they ended up in our criminal justice system, before they ended up in our emergency rooms, and before they ended up on our 911 calls? Can you imagine what Chicago would look like? Our emergency rooms would be less crowded, our jails would have more beds than people, our kids would be able to play without having to hear gunshots. That’s the world that we look forward to.”

During Tapia’s tenure at the Cook County Jail, she was instrumental in creating programs that supported pathways to health in the community and reduced recidivism. “At one point in my career, Cook County Jail had 10,000 inmates. When I left, we had less than 6,000,” she said. Now as a leader in residence at Chicago Beyond, “and with the support of wonderful organizations like TASC and so many others, we can bring this cycle of incarceration to an end,” Tapia said. “When our youth are healed, our community will be healed. But until that happens, it is our collective responsibility to raise our voice.”

Special Announcements and Acknowledgments

The formal luncheon program concluded with the surprise announcement of a major gift from 2016 Public Voice honoree John Greene and his wife, Jean Greene. Moved by TASC’s work and by their affection for Peter Palanca, who retired in 2017 as TASC’s executive vice president and COO, they were on hand to hear Rodriguez make the announcement:  “I am thrilled and grateful to announce the creation of the Peter Palanca Endowment Fund at TASC.”

Thanking TASC’s supporters, partners, board members, and staff, Rodriguez also welcomed four past TASC Leadership Award Recipients in attendance: TASC founder Melody Heaps (2010), retired WGN news anchor Robert Jordan (2013), State Senator Mattie Hunter (2014); and Greene. In addition to Hunter, other elected officials at the luncheon included State Senator Melinda Bush, State Rep. LaShawn Ford, and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim.

TASC Board Chair Michelle Montgomery opened the program with gratitude for TASC’s supporters, including the event’s elite sponsor, Alkermes; select sponsors Gateway Foundation and William Blair; and Friend of TASC sponsors First Midwest Bank, Healthcare Alternative Systems, Inc., Indivior, Inc., Janssen Neuroscience, and Rosecrance. She also thanked John Zielinski, chair of TASC’s event committee and vice chair of TASC’s board of directors, along with event committee members Glenn Blackmon, Robin Fandrei, DeAnna Jones, and Tracy Thompson.

Emphasizing the importance of TASC’s mission, she said, “Incarceration affects not just the individual, but it severely disrupts whole families and multiple generations, devastating entire communities. As I speak, we are seeing this both in Illinois and across the nation. That’s why I believe so strongly in TASC’s work in disrupting these cycles.

2018 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon (l. to r.): Dr. Nneka Tapia, Public Voice Award honoree; Pam Rodriguez, TASC president; Chief Eric Guenther, Justice Award honoree; Danny Langloss, Justice Award honoree. Photo by Uk Studio, Inc.

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National TASC Conference Showcases Local Diversion Programs

(Chicago) – Several criminal justice diversion programs in Illinois were showcased at the recent annual conference of National TASC, an association of programs that connect justice systems to community-based treatment.

TASC, Inc. of Illinois served as the host organization for the national conference, which took place in Chicago and drew attendees representing programs in states from North Carolina to Hawaii. One of the conference themes was the importance of diverting people with non-violent charges away from traditional criminal justice processing and into services in the community.

Although diversion is not a new concept, public opinion, health coverage brought about by Medicaid expansion, and bipartisan efforts toward criminal justice reform have propelled such initiatives to the forefront of public policy. The goals of such programs vary depending on the jurisdiction, but most aim to reduce the numbers of people going into the justice system, reduce jail stays, strengthen connections to health and supportive services in the community, and reduce recidivism.

Illinois Diversion Programs Highlighted

At the conference, held April 25-27 at the Westin Michigan Avenue, experts who have implemented front-end diversion programs in Illinois offered their experiences and strategies for developing these initiatives. Chief Eric Guenther, public safety director for the Village of Mundelein, and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim described their collaboration in implementing smart-on-crime approaches. Motivated by the dramatic increase in opioid overdoses and deaths in the area, they are leading the development of a collaborative effort to divert people with drug problems to community-based treatment rather than arrest them. Similar programs are being designed and implemented across Illinois and the country, inspired by the Gloucester, Massachusetts, Angel Program launched in 2015.

“We have been losing a lot of young people to overdose deaths all over our county. We had to come up with a new way of dealing with this [opioid] epidemic,” said Nerheim. “The vast majority of people who come into the system are going to be back with us—back in society—and we want them to be productive members. Everyone should have the opportunity for a second chance.”

Chief Guenther noted the importance of building trust between the community and law enforcement, so that community members feel comfortable coming to the police department for help. He remarked on the police department’s unique ability to engage people any time of day, any day in the year. “A person may decide at 2:00 a.m. that they want out [of addiction], and having to wait until 8:00 a.m. may mean that we lose that window.” Guenther also stressed that planning processes should include people in recovery to ensure that programming and messaging will appeal to individuals who need help.

Mark Kammerer, the alternative prosecution/sentencing unit coordinator at the Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney’s Office, described the array of programs in place to divert people out of traditional case processing, noting that his office has been operating diversion programming in some fashion since the 1970s. “We now have interventions for people with the least extensive criminal background to high-risk, high-need individuals. One size does not fit all, so we offer a continuum of interventions. The goal is to identify and screen people to get them into diversion programs sooner, rather than later, in the criminal justice system.”

TASC Vice President George Williams, who offered the conference’s opening remarks, spoke of TASC’s 40-year history in advocating for people who need help, and emphasized that clients, constituents, friends, and family members are at the heart of this work. “Everything we do in this room is for the rights, interests, health, and needs of the men and women who have come through our doors,” he said.

New Opportunities via Medicaid Expansion

“Diversion programs are surging in popularity and evolving in response to current needs,” said Laura Brookes, policy director at TASC. Introducing the panel discussion, Brookes offered that the justice system can divert many people who represent a low public safety risk to programs in the community, stemming the tide of people coming into the system at the front end and throughout it.

“Now is a particularly exciting time to be involved in this work, not only because of the broad support for much-needed reform, but also with the expansion of Medicaid in many states under the Affordable Care Act,” said Brookes. “This means that local and state governments can save justice and corrections costs by establishing connections to Medicaid-reimbursable behavioral health and medical resources in the community. These resources can help increase diversion, as justice systems become confident that many of people they are diverting will be able to access the care they need and reduce offending.”

The benefits of diversion programs were highlighted at the 2016 National TASC conference.

Benefits of diversion programs were highlighted at the 2016 National TASC conference in Chicago.