A Court of Refuge: Stories from the Bench of America's First Mental Health Court
Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren with Rebecca A. Eckland
Reviewed by Judge Heather Brereton
In A Court of Refuge, Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren details the creation and evolution of the first mental health court in the United States, the Broward County Mental Health Court. The court began on June 24,1997, held during the lunch hour of Judge Lerner-Wren's criminal calendar. Judge Lerner-Wren's court serves individuals charged with misdemeanor criminal offenses who suffer from psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as well as those with traumatic brain injuries, cognitive disorders, and dementia. A Court of Refuge is an approachable mix of the philosophy and workings of Judge Lerner-Wren's therapeutic court, her personal experiences both in and out of mental health court, and the case histories or stories of several participants in her court.
The case histories cited by Judge Lerner-Wren show how the failure of state mental health systems to adequately treat and support those with mental illness leads individuals into the criminal justice system. She details how many mentally ill individuals languish in jails where their mental illnesses oftentimes go untreated. She begins the book with the story of Aaron Winn, a Florida man who deteriorated mentally after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident. As a result, he spent two years in Florida mental hospitals after which he was released into the community with no further treatment or care plan. He had a psychotic episode during which he knocked an elderly lady to the ground where she hit a cement curb and later died from the injuries caused by the fall. Mr. Winn entered the Florida criminal justice system, charged with first degree murder. Those involved in and concerned about Mr. Winn's case influenced the creation of the Broward County Mental Health Court.
The book does a good job of detailing the very real problem of the criminalization of mental illness facing courts in Florida and...