Ohio's Courts among Most Assertive in Addressing Mental Health Issues
By Csaba Sukosd | June 5, 2019
Seventy years after Mental Health Awareness Month was first observed in the United, Ohio's courts continue to be some of the most proactive in addressing psychological issues that find their way into the judicial system.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Ohio's 52 specialized dockets dealing with mental health ranks second nationally behind the 60 of California, which has four times more people. Ohio has 36 adult mental health courts, two substance abuse and mental illness courts, seven juvenile mental health courts, and seven juvenile courts that deal with dual diagnoses of mental health issues and illegal substance use.
Since the state's first mental health court was created in the Akron Municipal Court in 2001, Ohio has seen continual expansion of its efforts to address the problems people with a severe mental illness face - be it in the criminal justice system or their personal lives. On top of the growth in volume of these probationary programs, has come the increase in knowledge for those who run these dockets.
"I think people just assume that judges know everything. We do not, and so we have to continue to be educated in what's going on," said Akron Municipal Court Judge Annalisa Williams, who's presided over the city's mental health court since 2005.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness states that one-in-five Americans experience a mental illness, which includes children and teens. In many of those cases, those issues lead to others.
Hardin County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Chistopher, who operates both a mental health court and a drug court, says "about 65 percent of our kids have both an addiction problem or substance abuse problem and a mental health problem."
Judge Christopher - and fellow judges - offer incentives and impose penalties to keep participants on track. The judiciary is permitted to adapt to suit each individual's circumstances with the goal of improving treatment, as well as reducing recidivism and costs to taxpayers.
"We're fallible human beings," Judge Williams said. "We're going to make mistakes, but we don't have to repeat them. It's about giving [mental health court participants] the tools of thinking before they react."