Shuttering of Mental Hospitals Led to Flood of Mentally Ill Into The Legal System

By Eve Stratton, AP, Published:04/29/2015

evelyn_stratton_color FullI grew up in Thailand as a daughter of American missionaries.I went to a mission-run boarding school in South Vietnam.Our school had to evacuate, and moved to Malaysia.
I saw plenty of war and poverty of a very different sort, where the Thai were very self-sufficient as rice farmers, but saw nothing of mental illness.

At 18, I came to America for college.Even in law school, I had no awareness of mental illness and then I was elected a judge here in Franklin County, and bam!I faced it head on.
Little did I know that because of our misguided, but well-meaning, movement to close mental health hospitals, our jails and prisons would become the defacto hospitals.And I added to their rolls.

I had no other options, and no idea of the problem.In the 1950’s, we had 350,000 people in mental health hospitals.

Today we have 70,000 — nationally.But, 300,000 to 500,000 of these people are now in jail, prison, or on probation or parole.

Fast forward 26 years.We have truly made progress.Then we had a few drug courts.
Today we have 180 specialty dockets (drug, mental health, veterans, and others) now certified, and more in the process.

In the late 1990’s, we had 100 officers trained as Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) to handle calls involving mental illness differently.Today we have over 7,500 officers trained in Ohio.

We have the Attorney General Task Force on Mental Illness and Criminal Justice, which I co-chair with the Attorney General, with 10 very active subcommittees.

A group of us is working on a CIT Strategic Plan for the next phase.A group of state leaders, under a grant from the AG, just completed a “Bridging the Gap” Summit, unveiling a blueprint for meeting current needs for mental health in the criminal justice system.

Franklin County was selected by the Council of State Governments (one of six in the country) to study mental illness and the jail system, and will present the recommendations to the Franklin County Commissioners on May 13.

And Medicaid expansion, as controversial as it has been politically, has provided for the first time, health and mental health coverage for some of those sickest among our Ohioans.

Ohio recently passed SB 43 which expands the ability to seek court-ordered outpatient treatment instead of requiring expensive hospitalization only.

Everywhere, progress is being made.Silos are breaking down.Ohio has become a national leader in mental health and criminal justice reforms.

While we have come a long, long way from my early days as a judge whose only option was jail, we still have a long way to go on providing resources and needed dollars for treatment.

We don’t have enough crisis beds for police officers to drop off someone in a mental health crisis versus taking them to jail.

We don’t have enough psychiatrists, treatment providers, and facilities to care for those in distress. We still have practices and laws that inhibit treatment.

But my missionary parents created in me an eternal optimism that life can get better.
At 93, my mother went back to work tutoring English to a Korean lady.I have many years left in me to catch up to her.

Because of committed leaders and other partners who are willing to work together, I know Ohio will see more and better changes, so that those with mental illness can live a productive, happy life, without stigma, and without landing in a jail or prison because there is nowhere else for them to go. We can and will still move forward.

Eve Stratton is a former Ohio Supreme Court justice and currently serves as counsel at Vorys. She uses her experience to advocate for change in the way the United States legal system approaches mental health. She has also worked for the development of veterans’ courts throughout the state.

Copyright © 2015
The Daily Reporter – All Rights Reserved

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