Heroes for Health: Gerald P. Ptacek

This spotlight series is designed to profile members of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. Over the coming months, the series will feature individual Collaborative members, each of whom is integral to the group’s efforts to forge stronger connections and establish new approaches to strengthen the social and emotional development of our children.

This series is an opportunity to highlight and recognize the diverse individuals, services and resources available to the Racine community.

Who: Gerald P. Ptacek, Circuit Court Judge in Racine County


Website: www.racineco.com

Phone: 262- 636-3136

Twitter: @RacineCounty

About Racine County Circuit Court: The Racine County Circuit is made up of ten Circuit Court Judges, each elected for six-year terms. Judges are assigned to court divisions and rotated division every two years. The Racine County Courthouse is located in the City of Racine at 730 Wisconsin Avenue.

Words from Gerald, a Hero for Health:

Mental illness is a medical issue, not a criminal issue. Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood, and it extends demand for early intervention in children's mental health needs to the legal system. Too often we see individuals who get arrested for public nuisance because they’re not following their plan of care and are unaware of their mental health needs. There are also kids whose parents are suffering from mental illness and can’t provide the protection and services their children need. Factors like these can have a devastating impact on a child.

As a circuit judge for Racine County, it’s been important for me and other members of our court system to seize the opportunity of early identification in the courtroom. In the juvenile system, for example, there is still an opportunity for us to intervene at an age where we can effect positive change and help guide children away from unnecessary interaction with the law. During my 25 years as a judge, mental illness has been a common factor that I see among repeat offenders.

We need to prioritize early intervention. Otherwise, we are at risk of criminalizing people who need care - turning prisons into hospitals and paying for incarceration when we could instead be focusing on treatment. I have come to realize over the years that the best, most cost-effective approach is early intervention.

As a former board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Racine, I am keenly aware of the value that coordinated services bring to the overall advancement of mental health awareness in the community. In particular, a committee made up of representatives of the Racine Police Dept., mental health treatment providers, Corporation Counsel, the District Attorney, Public Defender and NAMI provides the training referred to as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for our police officers so they can be equipped with the knowledge and skills to better handle cases that might be a result of mental illness. It’s going to take collaborative efforts like this to change the stigma and shame often associated with mental illness.

I come from a long line of public servants. My father is a former teacher, and my mother was the former clerk of courts, so I’ve definitely seen both how this field positively impacts the community and also how the topic of mental health continues to evolve. We have an obligation to our children. They’re the next generation and will be in our places someday. Whether it’s through the environment, education or family interaction, we just need to ensure we have healthy, productive children in order to continue prospering as a community.

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