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Q&A: Jac Charlier, national director for Justice Initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities)

Nov 20, 2017

Jac Charlier is the national director for Justice Initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). His work focuses on bridging the criminal justice and behavioral health systems to connect individuals who have substance misuse or mental health issues with resources that reduce their risk of further exposure to the criminal justice system.

Interact for Health: Can you explain more about the Center for Health and Justice at TASC?

Jac Charlier: The White House launched the TASC model in the 1970s in response to Vietnam veterans returning with heroin addiction as a way to bridge the very different worlds of the justice system and the behavioral health system.

Today, our TASC organization uses that model to provide life-changing opportunities for people with substance misuse or mental health issues that put them at chronic risk of exposure to the criminal justice system. TASC helps people access treatment and support they might not otherwise access.

Interact for Health: Can you share an example of your project in a community?

Charlier: The center was part of a team that developed a deflection/pre-arrest diversion effort in Montgomery County, Maryland, called STEER: Stop, Triage, Engage, Educate, and Rehabilitate. Through that effort, police officers -- instead of arresting or releasing folks who have overdosed or are known to have a serious substance use disorder -- have a 24/7 mechanism by which to get the person connected to treatment.

Through these deflection/pre-arrest diversion efforts, we're seeing that people who enter these initiatives can access treatment that they otherwise might not access; avoid going into the criminal justice system because they get treated; and -- it's still very early, but it should match what goes on everywhere else -- stop using drugs. Their health gets better, their wellbeing improves and their life condition improves.

Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned from your work with the center?

Charlier: The No. 1 thing that is relevant to expanding these deflection/pre-arrest diversion efforts is – and this is exactly what I say -- for the police chief and the behavioral health community to go out and have breakfast together and make the decision that they will initiate a deflection/pre-arrest diversion effort. No. 2 is the behavioral health community has to begin to figure out right away how to provide rapid access to treatment and ongoing engagement when police are no longer involved.

Interact for Health: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Charlier: The center as a national entity really is both a thought and practice leader in areas that promote the bridging of criminal justice and behavioral health. In the area of deflection/pre-arrest diversion, for instance, we not only initiated a program that was up and functioning early on back in 2013, but also work with communities and do writings and meetings in this arena as a national leader in helping jurisdictions put these efforts into place.

Interact for Health: What about your work is most gratifying?

Charlier: For me, coming from a law enforcement background, it's knowing that the work I do in bridging the two worlds -- based on the research, based on the evaluation, based on the science -- reduces crime. It all comes back to I am making communities safer through my work. That's foundational to me.

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