Opinion: Let’s Make 2018 the Year to Step up for Persons with Disabilities

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By Ginger Lerner-Wren

It has been more than 20 years since the launch of Broward’s Mental Health Court and the recognition that through the application of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ), courts have the capacity to promote recovery and public safety. These law reform strategies, such as TJ and restorative justice offer new opportunities for at-risk youth to break the school to prison pipeline and justice-involved men and women with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders to gain access to individualized community-based care. The goals of problem-solving diversionary courts are to offer treatment over incarceration, break arrest cycles and promote public health and safety. Problem-solving courts rely on community treatment and service providers from a collaborative approach and develop linkages to behavioral health treatment and services. The aim, to overcome barriers to care and through court diversion reduce the number of people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders in the jail. These problem-solving strategies come under the therapeutic justice banner and are highly popular across the legal spectrum, from a trauma-informed and evidence-based perspective

For example, from a juvenile justice and criminal justice perspective, problem-solving models include specialized treatment courts and (pre-booking and community) jail diversionary strategies, such as CIT and hybrid law enforcement crisis teams, juvenile civil citation programs and trauma-informed school-based programs. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, there are more than 3,000 drug treatment courts, 400 mental health courts, and hundreds of veterans courts and hybrid behavioral health courts throughout the U.S.

Moreover, the Stepping Up Initiative, sponsored by The National Association of Counties (NACo), The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) was launched in May 2015, as a national call to action to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails. Since its launch, CSG estimates that 400 counties (including Broward County) have adopted County resolutions or proclamations accepting the challenge to “lower the prevalence of mental illness in jails.”

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