Beacon Press: A Court of Refuge
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A Court of Refuge

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

Authors: Ginger Lerner-Wren, Rebecca A. Eckland

The story of America’s first Mental Health Court as told by its presiding judge, Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren—from its inception in 1997 to its implementation in over 400 courts across the nation

As a young legal advocate, Ginger Lerner-Wren bore witness to the consequences of an underdeveloped mental health care infrastructure. Unable to do more than offer guidance, she watched families being torn apart as client after client was ensnared in the criminal system for crimes committed as a result of addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. She soon learned this was a far-reaching crisis—estimates show that in forty-four states, jails and prisons house ten times more people with serious mental illnesses than state psychiatric hospitals.

In A Court of Refuge, Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren tells the story of how the first dedicated mental health court in the United States grew from an offshoot of her criminal division, held during lunch hour without the aid of any federal funding, to a revolutionary institution. Of the two hundred thousand people behind bars at the court’s inception in 1997, more than one in ten were known to have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. To date, the court has successfully diverted more than twenty thousand people suffering from various psychiatric conditions from jail and into treatment facilities and other community resources. Working under the theoretical framework of therapeutic jurisprudence, Judge Lerner-Wren and her growing network of fierce, determined advocates, families, and supporters sparked a national movement to conceptualize courts as a place of healing. Today, there are hundreds of such courts in the US.

Poignant and compassionately written, A Court of Refuge demonstrates both the potential relief mental health courts can provide to underserved communities and their limitations in a system in dire need of vast overhauls of the policies that got us here. Lerner-Wren presents a refreshing possibility for a future in which criminal justice and mental health care can work in tandem to address this vexing human rights issue—and to change our attitudes about mental illness as a whole.
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“With success stories to illustrate her points, she fervently makes the case that ‘recovery is a reality.’ Be prepared to become a believer, too.”

“Impressively informative, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, A Court of Refuge: Stories from the Bench of America’s First Mental Health Court is an extraordinary, compelling, and persuasively inspiring presentation that will prove to be of particular interest to judicial reformers and mental health advocates.”
Midwest Book Review

“She offers conditional hope: that even though mental health courts offer some relief, they are only one component in the social system, which requires a vast overhaul of the policies; and the exciting possibility of using courts as a place of healing.”
Hawaii: In Real Life

“Listening is where the solution resides . . . as a country, it is time for us all to do this one important act.”
—Kevin Berthia, survivor and suicide prevention advocate

“Judge Lerner-Wren and her mental health court have made invaluable contributions to how we handle people who commit crimes as a result of mental illness. Read her book!”
—Elyn R. Saks, author of The Center Cannot Hold

“Using a series of shocking and touching true cases, A Court of Refuge shines a much-needed light on the crisis of our nation’s failure to differentiate between criminal behavior and actions that stem from mental health issues. Every courthouse in America needs an advocate like Judge Lerner-Wren.”
—Joshua Lyon, author of Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict

“Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren has distinguished herself as one of America’s most enlightened jurists in the cause of justice for the mentally ill. In A Court of Refuge, Judge Lerner-Wren reveals a powerful narrative voice as she recounts the creation of the nation’s first mental health court, over which she presides. This book is a window onto our criminal-justice system’s shocking treatment of human beings who are not capable of understanding the crimes they are charged with. It is a necessary read, and a milestone.”
—Ron Powers, author of No One Cares About Crazy People

“Judge Lerner-Wren’s contributions to the quality of life for those of us with mental health challenges and, just as importantly, for those who love us, will be comparable to that of the Wright brothers’ contribution to modern flight. A Court of Refuge is a compassionately written argument for therapeutic jurisprudence in practice. A necessary book.”
—Darrell Hammond, SNL cast-member and bestselling author

“To find reality in a courtroom, turn off your TV and read A Court of Refuge. As you read the real-life stories of people living with mental illnesses as they intersect with the legal system, you will find a compassionate judge who works tirelessly to return humanity to their lives. You will also see the potential that everyone has to overcome and triumph over their internal demons.”
—Dr. Dan Reidenberg, executive director, S.A.V.E.

“A unique lens onto how the criminal justice system can become a healing justice system. Judge Ginger’s innovative approach has paved the way for thousands of people to finally heal and find a new way of life.”
—Jennifer Storm, author of Blackout Girl

“Takes the reader on an amazing journey, revealing in vivid detail the trailblazing efforts of America’s first mental health court in Broward County Florida. . . . A Court of Refuge offers a roadmap to therapeutic justice and, as such, is essential reading for those dedicating to making the world a better place for people with mental illness.”
—David Covington, CEO and President RI International, President Elect American Association of Suicidology and appointee to the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee

“In Judge Lerner-Wren’s fine book—a memoir, a history of court development for people with mental illness (and substance use problems as well), and a message of hope—we follow her professional path over twenty years, and see how lives can be restored. We owe Judge Lerner-Wren our great thanks for her innovations, and her teaching us with stories and clinical examples about what can work.”
—Lloyd I Sederer, MD, Clinical Medical Officer, NYS Office of Mental Health adjunct professor, Columbia/Mailman School of Public Health Medical Editor for Mental Health

“This exceptional book gives insight into the stories of individuals who have been positively impacted by Judge Lerner-Wren’s tireless work. It also serves as a signpost that we must continue our efforts to achieve the promise of recovery on behalf of people with mental illness and their families.”
—Charles G. Curie, administrator of SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) 2001–2006

“A clarion call to create real justice and hope for Americans with mental illness and addiction problems. Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren’s trailblazing mental health court is changing the court system from the inside out. Her vision of justice and dignity for people arrested with mental health problems has opened the eyes of America’s justice system to the need for compassion, restoration, and responsibility.”
—Barry Bradford, presidential and congressional award-winning historian and author, best known for his pivotal role in the re-opening the Mississippi Burning Case

“The therapeutic jurisprudence reflected on these pages comes to life in Judge Wren’s courtroom. . . . This book provides many reasonable, meaningful solutions and is a must-read for criminal justice and mental health professionals, as well as persons with mental illnesses and their loved ones.”
—Risdon N. Slate, PhD, co-author of The Criminalization of Mental Illness: Crisis and Opportunity for the Justice System

“A remarkable one-of-a-kind book: part breezily-written history of the creation and development of the first mental health court; part judicial autobiography by the first judge to preside in such a court; and, above all, a sensitive human-interest portrayal of a number of the fascinating and troubled people served by the court.”
—David B. Wexler, professor of law, University of Puerto Rico; Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Arizona; Honorary President, International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence

“As a retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice, I saw so many people with mental illness cycle through the system. Judge Lerner-Wren and Broward’s Mental Health Court led the charge for system change for people in need to access to community-based care. Judge Lerner-Wren ‘was the boots on the ground’ to help individuals and families with mental illness to restore their lives. She provided early inspiration and leadership on a better way to help those with mental illness in the court system.”
—Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Retired, Ohio Supreme Court, Co-founder of the national Judges Criminal Justice/Mental Health Leadership Initiative

“The cruel and even barbaric treatment of our nation’s mentally ill is not just shocking and indefensible but most importantly a call to action. A Court of Refuge will bring this heartbreaking issue into the light.”
—Major General (Retired) Mark Graham


A Race for Justice

The Shackles Come Off

Punishing Loss

The Raging Voice of Dignity

Simple Dreams

I Once Was Lost

Therapeutic Justice Goes Mainstream

Brothers and Sisters

Changing Hearts and Minds

A Rush to Privatization

In Honor of Our Elders

The Power of Human Connection

A Crying Shame

A Referendum on Hope

Recovery Is Real


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A Court of Refuge

ISBN: 978-080708698-8
Publication Date: 3/6/2018
Size: x
Price:  $26.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.