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Judge’s Decade-long Goal Realized with Mental Health Court

Image of Judge James Miraldi

Eight years after exploring the idea, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi's mental health received full certification from the Ohio Supreme Court.

Image of Judge James Miraldi

Eight years after exploring the idea, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi's mental health received full certification from the Ohio Supreme Court.

Mental health concerns have been on the minds of many since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For one northeast Ohio judge, it’s an issue he’s been addressing with court participants for years.

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi has created a specialty court to help untangle the complexities suffered by individuals with mental disorders who end up in the criminal justice system.

Recently certified by the Ohio Supreme Court, Lorain County’s Wellness Court is a two-year comprehensive rehabilitation program that strives to treat participants with varying conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolarism, and severe depression.

“When I started as a judge [in 2006], I was shocked at how pervasive it was,” Judge Miraldi said.

Those worries were echoed by his colleagues and local law enforcement agencies. All struggled with how to handle people suffering from mental illness, especially the volume.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20% of adults in the United States live with mental illness. Among the 2 million people jailed annually, the National Alliance on Mental Health estimates approximately 15% of the men and 30% of the women have a serious mental health condition.

Spanning through the past decade, that motivation “to do something” with this challenging population was always in the back, and front, of Judge Miraldi’s mind.

In 2012, he explored the idea of a specialized docket, but given the court’s financial limitations at the time, the program was unable to get off the ground. Years later, he initiated the process, again, this time successfully obtaining local and federal funding with the aim of full Supreme Court certification.

“One of the advantages of that was to find out what practices bring out the best results,” Judge Miraldi said of the Court’s efforts to share information and provide guidance to trial courts.

Currently, 41 jurisdictions in Ohio are fully certified as specialty dockets or are in the certification process.

Judge Miraldi, a Lorain County native, also followed programs in Cuyahoga and Summit counties on how to establish his specialty court.

He also turned to his family for familiarity about creating a specialized docket. Judge John Miraldi, James’ cousin, runs Lorain County Recovery Court, which he began in 2015.

Both programs are joint operations with assistance from the Lorain County Sheriff's Office and county jail, the Lorain Adult Probation Department, Lorain County Prosecutor's Office, and treatment providers that address mental health and substance use issues, which are typically co-occurring for those dealing with mental disorders.

Aside from addressing legal and mental health matters, the Wellness Court’s treatment team identifies daily obstacles that can lead to personal setbacks, including housing, transportation, employment, and any other hurdles to independent living.

Each participant is admitted on a referral basis. Some of the offenders are adhering to the program as part of probation. Others are on the intervention track, where they are working toward completion to avoid a conviction. A defendant also can have their record sealed if they complete the four-phase process, which reduces supervision as they advance.

Judge Miraldi hopes his efforts convince municipal courts to come up with the resources to diagnose individuals earlier for their own well-being, and to prevent crimes from escalating to the felony level.

“Progress in this field isn’t straight. We can’t heal everybody and make things perfect, but we cannot give up,” Judge Miraldi said. “When things do go right, you feel like it’s the best thing you have going.”