(Retired Ohio Justice Evelyn L.) Stratton Optimistic about State Initiatives in Mental Health, Criminal Justice, Police Relations

Eve Speaking

The Honorable Evelyn L. Stratton, Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio (Retired)

The Hon. Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton has taken 24 years of experience addressing mental health and veterans’ issues at a practical and policy level and put them to good use in a second career advocating for the alternative treatment and sentencing of Ohioans whose problems are less criminal than clinical.

Lundberg, now of counsel for Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease when she’s not crisscrossing the state and nation on the subject of specialized dockets and mental health justice, left the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2012 after a 16-year career and eight previous years on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, where she saw many veterans and other individuals battling substance abuse and mental illness.

After moving to the Supreme Court in 1996, she turned her attention to specialty dockets, which among other subject areas address mental health, substance abuse and veterans’ issues.

“When I started, there were two in Ohio and six in the country. Now there are hundreds,” she says, noting the 280 dockets now operating in this state alone. “Ohio has the largest number of specialty dockets per capita in the U.S.”

Eight years ago, her interest gained greater focus on the range of concerns affecting veterans, including homelessness, substance abuse, mental health, and the criminal behaviors that can result. Stratton heard a speech on veterans’ legal issues in Washington, D.C. and returned home with an expanded vision.

“When I first got back to Ohio, judges weren’t even asking whether you were a veteran,” she says, noting that economic, personal and legal problems affecting former members of the military are now dealt with by a variety of specialized dockets in the state.

Stratton began her day Friday at one of them, the Stark County “Honor Court” for veterans. Over four years, graduates of its peer-mentor program have seen only 3 percent recidivism, she says.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) has been a key part of that success in Canton and other communities in Ohio, which now hosts 11 Veterans Justice Outreach (VOJ) Programs through the VA.

“President Obama has made this a big push of his administration,” Stratton says.

She offers similar praise for Gov. John Kasich, whose criminal justice reforms have benefited many demographic groups.

“This governor has been one of the most progressive in recognizing the need for alternative treatment in the courts,” says Stratton.

The former justice served as honorary co-chair of his Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations, whose recent findings will carry in a permanent Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, and as co-chair of the state Task Force on Criminal Justice and Mental Illness.

Stratton points out that the governor’s task force and attorney general’s Advisory Group on Law Enforcement Training have called for increased police awareness on how to interact with the mentally ill. She says 7,500 peace officers in Ohio have already taken Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.

“We only have two counties with no officers trained in CIT. Every one of those CIT trained officers become partners with the mental health board,” says Stratton.

She also praises the race awareness of both peace officer panels and their attention to “implicit bias.” On this issue, she says, “Ohio can be proactive rather than reactive.”

Going forward, Stratton is enthusiastic about proposed funding for criminal justice reform, mental health treatment, and specialized dockets in the current budget cycle.

“I speak a lot nationally, and I always come back to Ohio so proud of the collaboration between the administration, the Legislature and the courts,” she says.

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Story originally published in The Hannah Report on May 22, 2015.  Copyright 2015 Hannah News Service, Inc.