“Rejecting stigma in favor of equality and human dignity is the essence of social justice”- Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren

Updated December 26, 2020.

It has been over 23 years since Broward County launched America’s first problem-solving mental health court dedicated to the decriminalization of persons with serious mental illness and neuro-diverse disorders. As I reflect on the new year, I want to honor all mental health consumers and advocates working to advance change and social justice. I view with optimism the positive lessons I learned in terms of justice innovation, mental health recovery, and the power of community to collaborate in…


Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, 2020

“That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”

Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point How Little Things Could Make a Big Difference

There are many examples of cultural tipping points in mental health which ushered in a collective consciousness, where urgent change is needed. In terms of mental health and criminal justice, one example is court innovation and the establishment of Broward County’s Mental Health Court.

When the court began in 1997, the media and public response was immediate and intense, as the community delegations…


The rejection of stigma and prejudice in favor of dignity is the essence of social justice.” Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, 2018

I was prepared to fail. That was my first thought when the Chief Judge Dale Ross called to congratulate me on my appointment to Broward’s Mental Health Court.

“Congratulations Ginger” Said, Chief Judge Dale Ross.

“You are our new mental health court judge…when would you like to start?”

“Ten days…if you could just give me ten days.” I replied.

In 1997, I became a judge. It was a critical time for our court system. As a lawyer with specialized training…


This holiday season I wanted to express my gratitude to all who work to promote community collaboration, behavioral health and well-being. In Broward County, for example the United Way of Broward County and community partners continue to advance new strategies to promote behavioral health, substance use prevention and quality of life. This past year, an expanded focus on social determinants of health and the desire to create new pathways to opportunity for those in the criminal justice system has led to new alliances. These collaborative relationships are not only a source of hope but a symbol that anything is possible.


“The impact of substance use disorder and suicide among young adults is at an all-time high.”

By: Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, 17th Judicial Court, Florida

The young man walked slowly with his head down as he approached the podium in the Broward County Misdemeanor Drug Court. I assumed this division upon the retirement of one of my colleagues. Along with Broward’s mental health court and a regular criminal division, I looked forward to continuing to provide the opportunity for people with qualifying charges to earn a dismissal through successful completion of the court program.

As the first case was called, Mr…


“The impact of substance use disorder and suicide among young adults is at an all-time high.”

By Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, September 2019

The young man walked slowly with his head down as he approached the podium in the Broward County Misdemeanor Drug Court. I assumed this division upon the retirement of one of my colleagues. Along with Broward’s mental health court and a regular criminal division, I looked forward to continuing to provide the opportunity for people with qualifying charges to earn a dismissal through successful completion of the court program.

As the first case was called, Mr. Henderson approached…


“The impact of substance use disorder and suicide among young adults is at an all-time high.”

By Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren, 17th Judicial Circuit, Florida

The young man walked slowly with his head down as he approached the podium in the Broward County Misdemeanor Drug Court. I assumed this division upon the retirement of one of my colleagues. Along with Broward’s mental health court and a regular criminal division, I looked forward to continuing to provide the opportunity for people with qualifying charges to earn a dismissal through successful completion of the court program.

As the first case was called, Mr…


“The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place”.

Marian Wright Edelman

The following an excerpt from A Court of Refuge, Chapter 13, A Crying Shame.

Vignette: Kelvin Wesley grew up in Fort Lauderdale. He had been a stellar athlete, excelling in the 400- and 800-meter races in track and field. He had been arrested for the offense of criminal mischief. According to the arrest affidavit, Kelvin allegedly threw a rock through a store window. Kelvin had been referred…


This week I opened court with a woman who sat handcuffed to the sleek black chair of the jury box. The prosecutor indicated that she had been arrested for petit theft. I will call her Sharon. She appeared young, perhaps in her late 20’s or early 30’s. Sharon appeared frail and lost.

“I have no one judge”, the young woman cried.

We spoke for a few minutes. I learned Sharon was homeless and had lost contact with her family. …


“Nursing is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said the finest of Fine Arts.” Florence Nightingale

The Transformative Role of “Root Cause” Problem-Solving

I have written many times about problem-solving justice and the expanding role of courts to tackle complex social problems for children, adults and families from a therapeutic approach. The transformative role of judges to humanize the law through the application of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) lends voice and validation to court participation. The elevation of dignity, active listening and the inter-disciplinary nature of court process, allows for a unique court experience while upholding the rule of…

Ginger Lerner-Wren

Pioneer of America's first mental health court. Author of "A Court of Refuge: Stories From the Bench of America's First Mental Health Court"

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