A Court of Refuge: Stories from the Bench of America's First Mental Health Court

with Rebecca A. Eckland. Beacon. Mar. 2018. 208p. notes. ISBN 9780807086988. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780807086995. LAW
Mental health courts admonish that the traditional criminal justice model is incapable of handling its large population of mentally ill offenders. In response, Lerner-Wren (psychology, Nova Southeastern Univ.) pioneered the first court to specialize in such cases in 1997 in Broward County, FL. This book records her judicial and professional advisory experiences. The court's philosophy of "therapeutic jurisprudence" is explored along with the county's unique characteristics. Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the 1960s, political criminalization, and increased homelessness are blamed for overreliance on the justice system. Case studies of Broward County offenders illustrate the tone and operation of the court including its relative informality, staffing, treatment options for special needs cases, trauma issues, and family input into the process. Positive outcomes with misdemeanor offenders are stressed although statistical evaluation of the long-term effectiveness of such courts is deemphasized.
VERDICT Written by a committed legal advocate, this book is valuable for its cogent insights into the development and spread of mental health courts as well as its critical perspective on the Florida mental health care system.

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