Handling the Arrest of a Family Member
The arrest of a family member or friend can be very upsetting. Trying to figure out what to do and where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are some steps to take to help your loved one through the situation.
If you don’t know which jail your loved one is being held in you can use an online inmate locator.
If your family member requires medication, he should inform the jail staff. If he has not informed the jail staff, you should ask his psychiatrist to contact them. Although there’s no privacy law restricting a medical professional from sharing information with jail staff, some will refuse. If that happens, you should make contact with your family member’s doctor. It is best to do this in writing and then follow up with a phone call. This will ensure a written record of your request. Your request should be to the point and include:
- Your loved one’s diagnosis
- The type of medication
- Contact information for their doctor
- Your contact information
Is Your Family Member Being Mistreated?
If your family member is being mistreated in jail, you should start by contacting your state’s protection and advocacy agency, which is responsible for protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. You can also contact your state’s affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Going to Court
The arrest of a family member may mean he or she needs to appear in court. Knowing what to expect can help you provide the most support for your loved one and hopefully lead to the best outcome.
Working with an Attorney
Most people charged with crimes are assigned a public defender. Here is what you should do:
- Make contact with the attorney. This can be hard as attorneys are often in court all day, so call early in the morning or during lunch. If you can’t reach her, call her office and ask for a fax number or email address.
- Attend the initial hearing. Introduce yourself to the public defender. Be brief, polite, and thank him. Let them know that you're happy to provide whatever information would be helpful to him. If your efforts are rebuffed, you can be more forceful and mail a brief summary (no more than three pages) of your loved one’s medical information to the public defender’s office.
- Ask the attorney to consider any jail diversion or pre-trial release programs. If you do not know about any programs, contact your NAMI Affiliate to find out if there is a jail diversion program, mental health court or other program to help defendants with mental illness in your community.
Remember that the public defender works for your family member, not you. You can ask your loved one to sign a release that allows the attorney to share information with you. However, he may refuse and there’s little the attorney can do.
You can also hire a private defense attorney who has experience working with clients with mental illness.
Help Finding an Attorney
The NAMI HelpLine maintains a legal resource service that may be able to provide further assistance. Our legal resource volunteers can provide you with information on legal services or refer you to an attorney from our legal directory. Our directory is made up of attorneys who have come forward to NAMI and expressed an interest in working with cases relating to mental health issues. While our legal resource service cannot provide direct legal advice, we can at least point you in the right direction on how to help your loved one.
Preparing for a Court Appearance
If your loved one is released, he may still need to appear in court. If he does not want to appear in court, you can ask the attorney if there’s a way that the hearing can continue without his presence.
If he needs to attend here are some things you can do to make the experience easier.
- Have a friend drop you off and pick you up at the door of the courthouse.
- If you must drive, arrive early to make sure you can find parking.
- Be aware that security guards may ask you to remove your belt and jacket and search any bags. If your loved one will be upset by these procedures, ask if you can carry these items into the courthouse on his behalf.
- Bring food and medicine, if needed, since you may be in court for several hours.
- Dress nicely. This will make a good impression on the court and show that you are taking the hearing seriously.