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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI New York State

NAMI New York State's "How to Help" guide is a few years old, but still very valuable. The guide has been popularly received and Deborah Faust at NAMI New York State has been inspired to build on it, because, "here at NAMI New York State we receive hundreds of calls from family members that need help navigating their loved ones caught in the justice system, and when I prepared my annual report last year, I responded to 430 calls related to criminal justice."  She set about designing a  "Criminal Justice Family Advocacy Initiative that would follow in the tradition of NAMI by providing education, resources and advocacy to all families that want to learn how to navigate their loved ones or folks in the community that are caught up in the justice system." 

Recently the NAMI New York State team held such a training geared towards helping friends and family members become effective advocates for their loved ones.  The training was held over two days in three locations throughout the state and the outreach included 13 different neighboring counties and 42 NAMI criminal justice advocates. These 42 advocates will become the names and faces of their local NAMI affiliate Criminal Justice Program and will provide individuals with help navigating systems and advocacy that includes coalition building on jail diversion initiatives. Each New York state county is unique and the two day training provides statewide resources and community resources that aid NAMI New York State Criminal Justice Advocates in building partnerships that will respond to their community's special needs.

The first day of the training provides a thorough overview of the criminal justice system and participants are shown where jail diversion initiatives can take place and what's going on in their communities. The second day is dedicated to understanding the perspectives of those working in the justice and mental health systems and the Dept of Corrections. It is organized on the principles of advocacy, single focused coalition building, lobbying and the difference between activism and advocacy.

Faust says her hope is, "that we will become unified in our efforts and train first responders across New York State along with working for quality programming that will keep our loved ones out of the system. I see this as an opportunity to become focused and build a specialized service that in the tradition of NAMI provide education, advocacy and support."

As NAMI Criminal Justice Advocates partnering with community stakeholders, NAMI New York State is encouraging advocacy that promotes working with professionals in the systems we are trying to advance change for our loved ones. The strength of this training initiative lies in effective advocacy and developing NAMI Criminal Justice Advocates on a statewide basis both to help individuals and families and to impact on broader policy issues  related to de-criminalizing mental illness. Recently one of the new advocates said to Faust of the training, "this training is similar to someone visiting a foreign country, and they receive a map with detailed directions that help them get where they need to be."

Download the NAMI New York State How to Help guide.

From: CIT in Action - November 2009

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