Family Member Arrested
Support Your Relative
- If your family member/friend calls you and says that he/she has been arrested, help him/her stay calm and offer your help and support.
- If your family member/friend is being held in a city jail, remind him/her of the right to have an attorney present if being questioned by police officers or detectives.
- He/She will be screened for mental illness, as well as other health concerns, upon arrival. It is very important that they be direct and honest to benefit as much as possible from this screening process. Assure your family member that it is OK to discuss his/her physical and mental condition, diagnosis, medications, etc., with the staff conducting the screening, which includes Sheriff’s nursing staff and Jail Mental Health Service staff. It is important your family member feels safe to speak openly with the mental health screeners.
Your family member may want to retain a private attorney or use the Public Defenders Office. A public defender will be assigned at arraignment if your relative does not have or cannot afford a private attorney. Do not be afraid to use a public defender. Public defenders often have knowledge of the system as it pertains to those who need mental health services.
If your family member decides to retain a private attorney, be sure to select one that is well versed in helping people with mental illness and understands how to access the treatment facilities and mental health services that are available.
Bail: Think carefully about posting bail for your family member. No one wants a loved one to remain incarcerated for any length of time. It is an unpleasant experience for them as well as the family. However, you must ask yourself the following question. Will your family member be able to comply with the terms of the bail and appear in court when required? Also, as hard as it may seem, jail may be a safer place for a person with severe mental illness who is in crisis rather than having your loved one wander the streets with no help at all. At least in jail they will be fed, will have shelter, and be given access to medication treatments.
Working with an attorney: Call the Public Defender’s office at the court where the case is being heard and ask for the name and phone number of the attorney who will be handling the case. It is more likely the attorney will be at his or her desk in the morning between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. before court begins or later in the afternoon after 3:30 p.m.
If you do not reach the attorney, be sure to leave a message requesting a return call with your name, phone number, your family member’s name and, if possible, the case number and court date. Due to the attorney-client confidentiality requirement, there will be information the attorney may not be able to share with you. Remember, it is your family member, not you, who is the attorney’s client.
Inform the attorney of your family member’s condition and any information that may be beneficial to the case. Provide the attorney with an extensive medical/psychiatric/social/educational history of your family member in writing. Include hospitalization, diagnosis information, medication treatment, and the contact information of those doctors/clinicians and of facilities that have treated your family member in the past.
This information will be very useful in pursuing the best outcome for your loved one. Attorneys are extremely busy and many will appreciate written or faxed correspondence.
Supporting and coping with a loved one who suffers from a brain disorder can be extremely challenging and stressful. Knowledge, as well as your love and fortitude, will be essential in helping you to become a strong and effective support system for your family member.
This informational guide was written by NAMI volunteers based on their own personal experience to help families navigate the system. We are not attorneys, and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice. Please assist your family member in obtaining proper legal representation.
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Mental Health Courts
Mental health courts have spread rapidly across the country in the few years since their emergence. In the late 1990s only a handful of such courts were in operation; today there are over 300, with at least one in nearly every state. More information about mental health courts can be found here.
Criminal Justice Resources
The Consensus Project is a project of the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Information Network coordinated by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. It is an unprecedented national effort to help local, state, and federal policymakers and criminal justice and mental health professionals improve the response to people with mental illnesses who encounter the criminal justice system.
Justice Center staff working on the Consensus Project have supported the implementation of practical, flexible criminal justice/mental health strategies through on-site technical assistance; the dissemination of information about programs, research, and policy developments in the field; continued development of policy recommendations; and educational presentations.
Criminal Justice/Mental Health Information Network
The Criminal Justice/Mental Health Information Network (InfoNet) builds and expands on previous efforts to collect program information as a resource for policymakers, practitioners, and advocates working to improve outcomes when people with mental illnesses encounter the criminal justice system.
Evidenced-Based Practices: Shaping Mental Health Services Toward Recovery
The goal of Assertive Community Treatment is to help people stay out of the hospital and to develop skills for living in the community, so that their mental illness is not the driving force in their lives. Assertive community treatment offers services that are customized to the individual needs of the consumer, delivered by a team of practitioners, and available 24 hours a day. This link to the SAMHSA Evidenced-Based Practices page provides several documents that will help to implement an Assertive Community Treatment program.