Common Good

May 21, 2018

Court News Ohio

By Kathleen Maloney

More than 383,000 adults with serious mental illnesses are being held in a U.S. jail or prison, according to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center. Of the 64,000 people jailed or imprisoned in Ohio in 2005, more than 10,000 were estimated to have serious mental illnesses.

In the Fairfield Municipal Court, Judge Joyce Campbell faced the grim consequences of the number of people committing crimes connected to untreated mental illness. In 1999, she presided over the initial appearance and preliminary hearing on a homicide stemming from a workplace shooting. The woman charged with shooting her co-worker had been in the criminal justice system in Fairfield before – for an assault two years earlier. Because of her severe mental illness, the woman was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the assault and released back into the community. There was no follow-up on needed care nor was she connected to local mental health providers, Judge Campbell said. Untreated, the woman later killed a former co-worker at their place of employment.

Frustrated, Judge Campbell began looking for solutions. After reading an article from Miami University in Ohio about therapeutic law, she visited a mental health docket in Florida and talked with stakeholders in her community. In 2001, she launched Ohio’s second mental health court. The first mental health court in Ohio was started by Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer in the Akron Municipal Court the same year.

“Society brings its problems to the courts,” Judge Campbell said. A 2016-2017 policy paper from the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) points out the disturbing dilemma: “Jails and prisons have replaced mental health facilities as the primary institutions for housing persons suffering from mental illness.”

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