By Mark Powell
Treatment Not Incarceration
For too many people, substance use problems lead to involvement with the justice system. But when that happens, incarceration isn’t always the best answer. It’s costly to taxpayers and often provokes a cascade of collateral problems. Other approaches are needed.
That’s where TASC’s model of Specialized Case Management comes into play.
Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) has its roots in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, says chief legal counsel Michele Worobiec. “There was a big uptick in heroin addiction in the 1970s. Many Vietnam veterans came back struggling with it. That was when a link between substance use disorders and justice system involvement was observed. So a model was created for these people to receive treatment instead of incarceration.”
In Illinois, TASC’s Specialized Case Management model facilitates linkages to treatment in the community. It was first applied as an alternative to incarceration for courts, and now is also is applied to community reentry, juvenile justice services, family recovery and reunification services, and more.
The concept is simple: Make sure people get the services they need. But with issues as complex as addiction and co-occurring conditions, and in systems as complicated as justice and child welfare systems, navigating one’s way through these services and systems is not easy.
TASC’s Specialized Case Management not only connects people to the services they need, but it also serves as a bridge between the referring system and treatment in the community.
In this model, the first steps are to identify the person’s strengths and needs, including an assessment of substance use issues. TASC then recommends and prioritizes services to meet clients’ needs and to fulfill the requirements of the referring systems. Recognizing that most clients need support beyond substance use disorder treatment, TASC assesses and addresses other client needs as well.
“Our case managers look at housing, education employment, and even transportation needs,” Worobiec explains. “They’re able to maintain contact with service providers and stay in touch with clients this way.”
Working in partnership with a network of residential and outpatient treatment providers across Illinois, TASC places clients in services that best suit their individual needs, and provides ongoing case management to support clients as they make changes in their lives, and also ensures ongoing communication with the referring system.
Because of the success of this approach in the court system, Illinois codified a program implementing it into state law in the 1980s. Eligibility for participation is based on the offense, and a conviction made under the statute may be vacated after the program is successfully completed, depending on criminal history. Importantly, violations of program requirements are addressed through clinically appropriate responses, and don’t necessarily mean program termination and incarceration.
TASC’s Specialized Case Management isn’t just applied as an alternative-to incarceration program. Referrals also come from problem-solving courts, probation, juvenile justice, and the child welfare system, as well as from state prisons and parole. Regardless of referral source, in all cases the core approach remains the same, with services tailored to each individual’s needs and circumstances.
Working with local courts across Illinois, TASC provided Specialized Case Management services for 1,023 men and women in alternative-to-incarceration programs in FY18. In total, from prosecutorial diversion to reentry services, and from juvenile justice to family recovery services, in FY18 TASC helped 13,700 individuals and families in achieving health and self-sufficiency in the community.
For those who receive TASC Specialized Case Management as a court-based alternative to incarceration, what does its availability mean? Worobiec doesn’t mince words. “Many eligible for the program would be in prison if our case management didn’t exist. Felony conviction records create even more problems for them. The collateral consequences go on and on.”
TASC's Specialized Case Management was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.