Illinois Parents Facing Relinquishment of Kids with Mental Illness to Get Help

(Chicago) – A shrunken public safety net in Illinois due to budget cuts has forced numerous parents into an anguished-filled dilemma: whether to relinquish custody of their children with serious mental or emotional problems in order to get them care.

As of January 1, 2015, a new Illinois law will help avert this agonizing choice for parents.

House Bill 5598, sponsored by State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on August 1.

The new law addresses scenarios in which parents resort to relinquishing custody, making their children wards of the state, in order to gain access to urgently needed treatment through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Wards of the state are entitled to care for these serious conditions.

“Over the past few years, children with mental illnesses have faced diminishing programs and services due to persistent and harsh state budget cuts,” said Feigenholtz. “With nowhere else to go, desperate parents are being forced to give up custody of their children. This law will make sure that families aren’t being torn apart.”

Illinois agencies will now organize a coordinated state response to help find and provide affordable care without forcing this decision. The bill requires DCFS and other state agencies – the Department of Human Services (DHS), the State Board of Education (BOE), the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and the Department of Public Health (DPH) – to create an intergovernmental team that will create a path for parents who have exhausted all other options to help them to secure health care for their children without having to relinquish custody.

Feigenholtz obtained an additional $7 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget to fund mental health services that she says will allow DCFS to help keep families intact.

“This bill is a common sense measure to protect families and children across Illinois,” Feigenholtz said. “It ensures that children can receive the mental health treatment they need and continue to thrive in the supportive and loving environments provided by their families.”

“Parents should never be put in the position of having to give up custody of their child in order for the child to get mental health care,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “Representative Feigenholtz’s bill will keep families together as they get the care they critically need.”

Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter, Walgreens’ Steve Pemberton Honored at TASC 2014 Celebration

TASC's 2014 Honorees:  Steve Pemberton (left), Public Voice Leadership Award; Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter, Justice Leadership Award.  Photo by Uk Studio.

TASC’s 2014 Honorees: Steve Pemberton (left), Public Voice Leadership Award; Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter, Justice Leadership Award. Photo by Uk Studio.

(Chicago) – With more than 300 guest in attendance, Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3) and author and Walgreens executive Steve Pemberton accepted TASC’s 2014 Leadership Awards at the agency’s annual luncheon at the Westin Michigan Avenue on December 10.

“From supporting smart diversion policies to building up services in communities, Senator Hunter is a champion for the work that brings us all here today,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez in presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award to Senator Hunter. “She leads legislation that considers the core issues that contribute to cycles of criminal justice involvement, and steers public policy solutions to offer practical, meaningful responses for communities.”

Senator Hunter placed the issue of justice in context. “When we talk about justice, many people think of courts, jails, and prisons. But there are a lot of issues that lead up to criminal justice,” she said. “Poverty, behavioral health, education, unemployment. When we don’t take care of these issues, we don’t have justice.

“There’s no reason to have a revolving door of drugs and crime,” she said. “We all can be part of the solution. By strengthening services in the community, and by creating fair public policies, we shape a better society for people today.”

TASC’s Public Voice honoree, Steve Pemberton, is chief diversity officer and divisional vice president for Walgreens. Raised in abusive foster care situations, Pemberson details his experiences in his book, A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home.

In spite of the pain revealed in its pages, “Steve’s book is far from tragic,” said TASC Executive Vice President and COO Peter Palanca. “It contains a powerful story of strength, resiliency, and hope. Steve’s story says that those still suffering are not alone, and it highlights the importance of connected and accountable systems of care.”

In accepting his award, Pemberton said that as he was growing up, he was called a lot of things — “that I’m ugly, I’m broken, and beyond repair. But as TASC proves, no child is ugly, no child is broken, and no child is beyond repair. They were born under circumstances and into situations that they did not ask for, that they did not create, and that none of us would really want for our own children.”

He offered encouragement and praise for organizations and people who help, saying, “The work is not glamorous. We romanticize so many things in our world today. This work is difficult and it’s eminently challenging.”

But there is hope, Pemberton emphasized.

“No one can bring my mother and father back to me, and no one can bring my childhood to me… but I can prove two things without a shadow of a doubt —that their life was not in vain, and that new beginnings are possible.”

“Steve Pemberton and Senator Hunter exemplify why we present our annual awards,” said Rodriguez. “We do this work with the partnership and support of old friends and new — from service providers to government leaders to corporate partners and individuals — and we succeed with the help of exceptional leaders.”

TASC thanks its many generous sponsors, organizations, and individuals who helped make this year’s event the most successful to date. Contributions to TASC suport the agency’s services across Illinois.

For more information on TASC, please visit

Pamela Rodriguez Op-Ed in Daily Herald: Is Illinois Ready for Criminal Justice Reform?

In a guest opinion-editorial for the Daily Herald, TASC President Pamela Rodriguez discusses the timely and promising opportunities for criminal justice reform in Illinois.

The General Assembly’s new Joint Criminal Justice Reform Committee, chaired by State Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Riverside) and State Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin), recognizes the need to reduce incarceration of non-violent offenders and those who struggle with mental illness and addiction, asserts Rodriguez. “We can begin to make significant reforms that allow people to get treatment for behavioral health issues as soon as or even before they come in contact with the criminal justice system,” she writes.

Read Rodriguez’s op-ed, including the unique opportunities for reform presented by Medicaid expansion.

Anthony Harden, TASC Youth Services Administrator, Receives IADDA Award for Distinguished Service

Anthony Harden, recipient of IADDA’s 2014 C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award, is congratulated by his wife, Gloria, and TASC team members. Left to right: Alisa Montgomery-Webb, Gloria Harden, Anthony Harden, Maxie Knighten, Alicia Kusiak, and Janelle Prueter.

Anthony Harden, recipient of IADDA’s 2014 Dr. C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award, with (left to right): Alisa Montgomery-Webb, TASC Youth Reentry Services Administrator; Gloria Harden; Maxie Knighten, TASC Juvenile Justice Services Team Leader; Alicia Kusiak, TASC Director of Cook County Services; and Janelle Prueter, TASC Vice President of Operations.

(Chicago) – Recognized for his tireless advocacy on behalf of youth and families in need of health services, TASC Youth Services Administrator Anthony Harden was honored September 4 by the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA).

Harden received the 2014 Dr. C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award at the association’s annual conference in Lisle. IADDA presents the award each year in memory of Dr. Bakeman, a pioneer in the field of addiction prevention and treatment who envisioned a society where all people have equal access to these essential health services.

“Just to be nominated for the Dr. C. Vincent Bakeman Memorial Award is an honor,” said Harden, “but to be selected is humbling and overwhelming.”

Paying tribute to the award’s namesake, he said, “Dr. Bakeman’s vision and legacy are consistent with our mission at TASC, as well as with our partners here at IADDA – to educate the public that substance abuse is a health issue.”

Harden offered that Dr. Bakeman’s commitment to equal access to substance use treatment is closer to being realized, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. For example, TASC provides application assistance for individuals detained at the Cook County Jail, which “not only for the first time gives many access to health insurance for their general well-being, but also access to treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues,” said Harden. “This is how we honor the leadership and legacy of Dr. Bakeman – by advocating, not just treatment for those who could afford it, but also treatment for everyone in need.”

He added that he would be remiss not to mention Dr. Bakeman’s insistence in advocating for all cultures, in particular for people of color.

“Years ago I heard Vince speak in Springfield at the Black Caucus convention,” recalled Harden. “He stated that one of the best models to address substance abuse is the 12-step program – but that it was designed for white, middle class, employed men. He advocated for communities of color to develop their own culturally-specific approaches and provide treatment and services to their own within their own communities. In other words, we need to make 12 steps inclusive; we need to make them fit who we’re serving – the unemployed, females, the homeless, the uninsured and the disfranchised. I think Dr. Bakeman would be proud of how far we have come today. But the work is not finished and I have no doubt my colleagues will not rest until it is so.”

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez presented the award to Harden, honoring his dedicated service and compassion for clients and staff.

“We are so proud to recognize your work, Anthony,” said Rodriguez. “Your heart goes into everything you do, and we see that in your quiet leadership and steady purpose in giving kids in the justice system a fair chance to succeed.”

“As Anthony’s colleague and friend, it is a pleasure to recognize his many achievements,” added TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca, who served as IADDA board chair from 2010 to 2012. “Anthony cares profoundly about creating opportunities for youth so they can grow up safely and participate in society in healthy and meaningful ways.”

Harden extended appreciation to his colleagues, many of whom were in attendance to celebrate his accomplishments, and his wife, Gloria, for her unwavering support. Thanking IADDA board members and CEO, Sara Howe, as well as TASC’s executive team for their advocacy on behalf of clients, families, and staff, Harden offered special appreciation for his juvenile services team, led by Maxie Knighten. “They are the true frontline soldiers and without them none of this is possible.”

With more than 20 years of dedicated service at TASC, Harden leads the agency’s services for the Juvenile Drug Court in Cook County, as well as TASC’s programs in partnership with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. He serves on several committees and boards, including the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Executive Committee, the Austin Community Coalition for Healthy Lifestyles, and the UIC PHAT (Preventing HIV/AIDS Among Teens) Community Advisory Board.

Established in 1967, IADDA is a statewide advocacy organization that represents more than 50 organizations across Illinois that provide substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services. TASC is a member agency of IADDA.


Report: Racial Imbalances, Lesser Offenses Highlight Illinois Juvenile Transfers to Adult Court

(Chicago) –There was only one white boy among 257 children automatically transferred to adult court in Cook County from 2010 through 2012, says a new report by the Illinois-based Juvenile Justice Initiative.

Furthermore, only 13 percent of Illinois children charged with crimes between 2010-2012 requiring an automatic transfer to adult court were charged with first-degree murder.

“Contrary to popular belief that ‘automatic’ transfer is used only on the most serious cases, only 13 percent of automatic transfers had charges of first-degree murder during a recent three-year review,” according to the Commission’s study of juvenile detention in Cook County.

The report, Automatic Adult Prosecution of Children in Cook County, Illinois 2010-2012, found that the 54 percent of juveniles under 17 who automatically were transferred to adult court ended up being convicted for lesser offenses—charges that would not have originally triggered a transfer. Another 4 percent were found not guilty or the cases thrown out.

By contrast, when juvenile court judges made the transfer decision in a court hearing, almost half of cases (48 percent) involved first-degree murder, the report states.

“Illinois is one of only 14 states to give this kind of extreme power to prosecutors, and we found the Cook County state’s attorney employed it almost exclusively in cases involving minority defendants,” said Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI).  “With the stroke of a pen, prosecutors can transform a child into an adult. Time and time again it happens to children of color in Chicago.”

Under Illinois’ automatic transfer law, which was in effect during the study of 2010 through 2012, anyone age 15 or 16 charged with certain felonies automatically bypasses the more rehabilitation-focused juvenile court, and there is no judicial review or appeal of a prosecutor’s decision to try a child in adult court.

Since the time of the study, the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in Illinois was raised to 17, and now 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds can face automatic transfer to adult court when charged with murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and several other felony charges.

In 1982, the Illinois General Assembly removed juvenile court approval of the decision to try a child under age 17 as an adult.

Under the “automatic transfer” law, children age 15 or 16 charged with certain felony offenses are “automatically” tried and sentenced in adult court. The legislature removed the ability of a juvenile court judge to consider each case individually, and eliminated any consideration of factors including background, degree of participation in the offense, mental and physical health, educational issues, and availability of resources unique to juvenile court for rehabilitation.

The average time for a child awaiting trial as an adult ranged from 377 days up to 572 days. By contrast, half of the children charged in juvenile court spend a month or less in detention, the reported noted.

“Trial in adult court fails to protect public safety—children tried as adults typically spend more time waiting for trial, more time in prison, and are less likely to receive rehabilitative services,” said co-author David Reed.

Clarke also said that nearly nine out of 10 youth sent to adult court entered guilty pleas.

“These children are questioned by police without an attorney to represent them, then charged in adult court on the basis of their statements,” said Clarke. “Ninety percent end up entering guilty pleas, nearly half to lesser offenses.  With a guilty plea, there is no trial, no meaningful sentencing hearing, and no opportunity for appellate review.”

Legislation, House Bill 4538, which would restore judicial decision-making authority to determine whether a youth is tried in juvenile or adult court, is under consideration in Springfield.

“It is time to restore individualized decision making on the critical issue of whether to try a child in adult court,” said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), the bill’s chief sponsor, who has introduced the plan to eliminate automatic transfers to adult criminal prosecution.

Nekritz’s measure has drawn support from a top criminal justice reform advocate.

“Justice is being denied to Illinois children who are automatically transferred to adult court, and there is a vastly disproportionate impact on minority youth,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “The legislature should support Rep. Nekritz’s bill to return judicial discretion to judges, enabling them to take into account the child’s age and individual circumstances when deciding the appropriate court venue.”

National Survey of Diversion Programs Takes Center Stage at Congressional Briefing

(Washington, DC) – A new survey of criminal justice diversion programs across the U.S. reveals that law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts are increasingly diverting certain people with non-violent charges away from courts and incarceration and into smarter, more science-based, and more effective alternatives in the community. These diversion options are designed to save costs, address individuals’ behavioral health issues, and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.

The report, produced by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (CHJ) and released at a U.S. Congressional staff briefing today, identifies and describes more than 100 criminal justice diversion programs from across the country upon which justice systems increasingly rely.

“The idea with this report is to provide a picture of the landscape of diversion and to promote its effective use at the front end of the justice system,” said CHJ President Pamela Rodriguez. “The survey intends to boost conversations across the country about available alternatives to conviction and incarceration.”

Rodriguez says diversion programs are gaining currency among law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts across the country.

“The survey found that as prison populations have swelled and public budgets have tightened, many jurisdictions are embracing diversion alternatives out of necessity,” said Rodriguez. “The report is a great benefit to law enforcement and justice systems in terms of the scope and breadth of diversion options available to them.”

The survey rests on the understanding that a criminal conviction – for either a misdemeanor or felony – triggers a cascade of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become and remain a productive member of the community, according to Rodriguez.

“This survey focuses on diversion programs that address an individual’s behavior without resulting in a criminal conviction,” said Rodriguez. “These programs may occur as early as street-level law enforcement intervention, or as late as court involvement, but the distinguishing characteristic of the programs surveyed is that they allow individuals to avoid a conviction, which otherwise clings to a person long after his or her debt to society has been paid.”

To develop this report, project staff surveyed more than 100 diversion programs with the intention of spotlighting program design, participating stakeholders, affected communities, implementation challenges and successes, and, where available, cost savings and overall effectiveness, aiming also to express the scale of their existence across the country.

In addition to highlighting the proliferation and diversity of diversion programs across the country, the survey analysis also found:

  • While programs vary in their approach to achieve diversion from traditional criminal justice case processing, a common critical component among many is a focus on individuals with substance use and mental health issues.
  • Many diversion programs currently are limited to individuals with first-time or low-level offenses.
  • Resources should be data driven, matching individuals’ risks and clinical needs with appropriate supervision and services in the community.
  • Given the many types of diversion programs in existence across the country, there are no apparent overarching standards for collecting or publishing evaluation data, nor standard definitions and language among such programs.

“We are at a critical juncture in criminal justice policy,” said Rodriguez. “Diversion programs across the country are emerging with a collective voice that says, ‘Locking up and labeling people is rarely the answer to non-violent offenses, especially when substance use and mental health issues play a role. There’s a better way.’”

The Center for Health and Justice at TASC is a national public policy group that offers solutions for criminal justice, child welfare, and behavioral health, focusing on strategies and lessons learned for reducing recidivism, improving health interventions, and achieving public cost savings.

 Twitter @TASC_CHJ   #diversion

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC.  Photos by Warren Hansen.

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.


TASC Honors Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN News Anchor Bob Jordan

(Chicago) — Moving stories of parents in prison, uplifting images of their recovery and family reunification, an energized room of 340 guests, and inspiring words from respected leaders. These were some of the highlights of TASC’s 2013 Leadership Awards Luncheon, which took place December 11 and honored Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN-TV Anchor Robert H. Jordan, Jr.

Each year, TASC’s Leadership Awards Luncheon celebrates the outstanding leadership of those who consistently demonstrate innovation and courage in addressing some of society’s most pervasive challenges.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez presented this year’s TASC Justice Leadership Award to Samuels, who has dedicated his career to justice and fairness. He leads the New York-based Legal Action Center, whose mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas. Rodriguez praised the exceptional team of individuals and partners that Samuels has brought together as president of the Legal Action Center, noting that, “For more than 30 years, Paul Samuels has established himself and the organization he directs as one of the preeminent leaders in efforts dedicated to justice and fairness, particularly for people with substance use disorders.”

“This is all about teamwork and collaboration,” emphasized Samuels. “We couldn’t do anything that really mattered without all of you, everybody in this room, TASC, and all the other advocates and service providers and people around the country.” Samuels said he was “in awe of the work that TASC does,” referencing the organization’s direct services for nearly 29,000 people each year, and continued, “I am also very familiar with the terrific public policy work that you do in addition to all the direct services work, and in all these intersecting areas of drug policy, mental health, health care financing, diversion, alternatives to incarceration, community reentry, juvenile justice. It’s just amazing the work that all of you have done to build TASC into a powerhouse organization, not just in Illinois. It’s nationally renowned for its leadership, creativity, and cutting edge work. It’s truly an honor to receive an award from you.”

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca presented TASC’s 2013 Public Voice Leadership Award to Jordan, who frequently covers issues related to criminal justice and health, including a special hour-long program last year dedicated to community solutions to youth violence.

“It was Bob’s search to better understand the complex issues of youth, violence, community safety, and their possible connections to addiction and mental illness which brought TASC and Bob Jordan together,” said Palanca. “His powerful curiosity and commitment to uncover, understand, and address the complicated—sometimes messy—social realities at the root of the news story, his leadership in bringing these discussions to a public forum, and his willingness to personally connect people, services and resources together. This is exactly what this award is about.”

In accepting his award, Jordan recounted a recent story of a young person who had gotten in trouble with the law, and whose life had been turned around with TASC’s help. Jordan said, “It shows how we all are connected somehow to this immense problem of people making mistakes, doing [stupid] things that can just ruin their lives, and we all have seen it happen. So we know that there has to be some coordinated effort with judges, with programs like TASC, with agencies that work together, and with our legislature and trying to work on adjusting our laws, and our own selves in adjusting the way we think about how we’re going to deal with this enormous problem.”

Samuels summed up the problem: “In the 90s the war on drugs turned into a war on drug users—or, more accurately, on people of color and poor people who use drugs, or who were just suspected of using drugs. Our nation’s public policies emphasize mass incarceration, mostly of young, African American and Latino men, even though whites use drugs even more, by most studies, than people of color. And our policies also put forward the horrible notion of permanent punishment of people convicted or even arrested for a drug offense. The list of barriers that have been put in place are horrifying, too long to list. They include denying people employment in a broad range of fields because of a criminal history and/or an addiction history, evicting people from public housing, and not even letting them visit their families.”

TASC has a 37-year history of providing program and policy responses to these challenges, with a steady track record of facilitating clients’ success and reducing recidivism. “TASC has an unwavering commitment to our communities and clients, our partner agencies and institutions—and to excellence,” said TASC Board Chair Marcia Lipetz. “We know our programs work because we rely on evidence-based practice.”

Founded in Cook County in 1976, TASC is a statewide, nonprofit agency that serves adults and youth who have substance use or mental health problems and who are involved in courts, jails, prisons, or foster care. TASC’s Center for Health and Justice provides national consultation and public policy solutions in health and justice.

Mark your calendars: TASC’s 2014 luncheon will take place on December 10 at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ