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Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System

Below are resources that offer helpful information in navigating the criminal justice system when a friend or family member has been incarcerated or admitted.

NAMI – Guide to mental illness and the Criminal Justice system


Helpline: 800-950-NAMI

This guide is intended to serve as an aid for those people thrust into interaction with local criminal justice systems. Since criminal procedures are complicated and often differ from state to state, readers are urged to consult the laws and procedures of their states and localities.

Obviously, this guide is not a substitute for a lawyer. However, the information contained here will hopefully be useful for consumers, family members and advocates in developing a basic understanding of criminal procedures and terminology. Additionally, the guide includes helpful hints to enable families and others to impact at the various stages of criminal processes.

Ending the Cycle of Recidivism – Best Practices for Diverting Mentally Ill Individuals from County Jails

National Association of Counties (NACo)

By default, jails in many communities have become the primary source of care for the mentally ill, a function for which they are neither equipped nor designed to handle. Moreover, there are cases of individuals struggling with mental illness who intentionally break the law as a way to receive treatment services. This cycle of recidivism is a clear symptom of an unhealthy system.

In response to this cycle of recidivism, the mental health, judicial, and law enforcement systems at the county level have begun to work together to develop solutions to this growing crisis. Some counties have developed programs that demonstrate the benefit of these systems working together to more effectively respond to individuals with mental illness. These programs demonstrate interventions to divert people at different stages in the criminal justice process, including before arrest, after arrest, and after release from jail.