STEP ONE: SUPPORT YOUR RELATIVE WHO SUFFERS FROM A MENTAL ILLNESS
- 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.
- If He/She is at the County Jail 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 (JMHS) staff. It is important your family member feels safe to speak openly with the mental health screeners.
STEP TWO: COUNTY JAIL INFORMATION
- Call the County Jail that is holding your family member and ask for the Watch Commander. Inform him that your family member suffers from a mental illness and describe the diagnosis and any other concerns you might have. Inquire as to your relative’s status and estimated length of stay at this facility. Ask if he/she is expected to be released directly from the jail. If he/she is going to be released directly from the jail (this sometimes occurs for minor offenses), ask for the time and place so you can be there to pick them up. If your relative is severely ill, ask if the city police could take him/her to a psychiatric hospital for a “302” involuntary three-day hold for treatment and evaluation.
STEP THREE: SEND A FAX WITH MENTAL ILLNESS And HEALTH INFORMATION
- Immediately prepare a fax requesting that your relative be screened for placement in the mental health unit. Begin this fax with your relative’s:
- Full legal name
- Date of birth
- Booking number
- In the body of the fax include:
- His/her diagnosis
- His/her psychiatrist’s name, phone number, and address
- The medications that are prescribed for your family member by name, dosage, and time of day to be administered
- Whether a particular medication has proven to be ineffective or has dangerous and/or uncomfortable side effects
- Any history of suicide attempts/threats or other violent intentions in the recent past. Briefly describe the events and when they occurred.
- Any other urgent medical conditions that might require immediate attention, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, seizures, heart problems, etc., and medications currently prescribed for those conditions. Include his/her medical doctor’s name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. The medical information you provide is tremendously valuable in making an assessment and will help the mental health staff select the best treatment for your relative. There is a clear preference for maintaining effective current treatment. However, the Jail Mental Health staff must conduct its own assessment of your relative’s condition and may not necessarily prescribe exactly the same medications.
- Do NOT address any impending charges against your family member in this fax. Medical information only!
- Keep a copy of this fax for future reference. If your family member is transferred to a different facility, you will need to fax this information again.
- On the cover page, indicate whether your relative has provided you with a written confidentiality waiver. Even if your relative has previously done so elsewhere, ask that he/she be asked to sign one while in jail. The Jail Mental Health staff is prohibited by law from giving anyone information about a client’s status unless they have the client’s consent, but the staff can receive information from relatives or friends without the client’s consent.
- Once your relative has been booked, fax the document described in this step to the appropriate numbers below. Faxes can be sent 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
STEP FOUR: MENTAL HEALTH COURT PROGRAM
The Mental Health Court Program assists defendants who have a mental illness in the criminal justice system. The objectives of this voluntary program are to increase coordination and collaboration between the criminal justice system and mental health systems, improve access to mental health services and supports, reduce incarceration time and enhance continuity of care.
- If you know what court your family member’s case will be heard in, please call the presidng court system
- When you contact the court liaison, it is helpful to provide some important pieces of information. Please advise the liaison of:
- The attorney’s name and telephone number
- A brief statement detailing the current circumstances, diagnosis, and relevant history of your family member. Be concise and to the point.
- Your family member’s name, booking number, and date of birth
- Where he/she is currently being held
- If your relative has a private attorney, be sure to provide him/her with the court liaison field and administrative offices’ contact information, so she/he may contact them.
- If your relative does not have an attorney, a public defender will be assigned at the arraignment
STEP FIVE: DECIDING ON LEGAL REPRESENTATION
- 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.
IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS WHEN THE ACCUSED HAS A MENTAL ILLNESS
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 a.m. -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 mental illness diagnosis, current condition, and any information that may be beneficial to the case. Provide the attorney with an extensive medical, psychiatric, social, and 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 mental illness/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. For information about support groups and educational programs provided free of charge in your area, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)