"A revolving door problem has developed in this country. Jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health system of our day. We must reverse this trend."
- Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Supreme Court of Ohio
As a trial judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton was troubled by the lack of mental health services available to offenders appearing in her court. It was clear that certain offenders became entangled in the criminal justice system because their illnesses had not been addressed.
In 2001, Justice Stratton championed an innovative approach to the problem when she created a statewide advisory committee to address mental health issues in the courts. With guidance from Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, a leading advocate for the creation of drug courts, Justice Stratton organized and has chaired the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness and the Courts, which is comprised of mental health, law enforcement, and criminal justice professionals, among other agencies and groups, who are dedicated to mental health initiatives in the court system.
Under her leadership, the Advisory Committee has organized training programs for judges and court staff on issues related to both adult and juvenile mental illness. Justice Stratton worked hard to promote the Crisis Intervention Team, a training program that teaches law enforcement how to deal with persons with mental illness. The Advisory Committee has also supported the creation of local mental health courts and jail diversion programs. Today, Ohio is a leader in the country in training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention and has more mental health dockets than any other state.
As a nationwide advocate of mental health courts, Justice Stratton testified before a 2003 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee considering legislation that would provide funding for mental health courts and other jail diversion programs. By using her position to foster a dialogue on these issues, Justice Stratton has gained recognition among mental health advocacy groups both in Ohio and nationally, and has received many awards. In 2004, the National Alliance on Mental Illness awarded her their distinguished service award.
In that same year, both the Council of State Governments and the Technical Assistance and Policy Analysis Center for Jail Diversion named Justice Stratton as co-chair of the Judges' Criminal Justice/Mental Health Leadership Initiative, a caucus of judges leading a collaborative, community-based effort to improve outcomes for offenders with a mental illness. She also co-chairs the National Returning Home Initiative, which works to help offenders coming out of jail to break the cycle of crime, a collaborative movement known as Reentry.
"We have discovered there are many resources out there that can be more effectively used when we join forces. The question becomes would we rather spend these dollars to keep mentally ill citizens homeless, revolving in and out of our criminal justice system, or would we rather spend these dollars to help them become stable, productive citizens? The key to all of this is collaboration. By joining forces and working together, we are making a difference. In the end, we save money, but more importantly we save lives."
- Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.