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Published: Saturday, 4/30/2011

Talks focus on mental health, justice system


When first seated on a bench more than two decades ago, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton said she believed she was helping those with mental illness receive help when she sentenced them to time behind bars.

Now, during her third term on the state's highest court, Justice Stratton said she has learned there is a much better way.

Speaking to a group of about 90 mental health professionals, lawyers, and students, Justice Stratton was one of several speakers during a day-long forensic psychiatry symposium at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Main Library on Friday. Titled "The Journey of a Defendant with Mental Illness," the symposium highlighted issues of those with mental illness involved in the criminal justice system.

In an hour-long talk, Justice Stratton spoke of Ohio's efforts in creating resources for the mentally ill within the court system, specifically specialized dockets called "mental health courts."

"There are now 36 mental health courts in Ohio," the justice said, adding that 13 other states have created statewide committees to create and support the concept. "… If we could take the advances already made and get a full-fledged mental health court going [in Toledo], that would be quite an accomplishment."

Mental health courts focus on the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders with a history of serious mental illness, the justice said, adding that often mental illness is the root cause of criminal involvement. By addressing the criminal cases of those with mental illness in one docket, judges can access resources of the mental health community to ensure the defendant is getting treatment, she said.

Justice Stratton also spoke of the push to create another specialized docket to work with military veterans. There are two established and six more about to start in the state, she said.

Sponsored by University of Toledo Department of Psychiatry, Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital, and the Toledo Bar Association, the symposium is a tradition to bring mental health issues to the forefront.

Between 350,000 and 500,000 people incarcerated nationwide are mentally ill.

Also speaking at the event were Dr. Phillip Resnick, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland about cases of murder-suicide, and local attorney Paul Accettola on the moral and ethical dilemmas of representing mentally ill defendants.

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