People with mental illness are disproportionately represented in our nation’s criminal justice system. About two in five people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness. NAMI’s Trends in Mental Health and Criminal Justice State Policy shows how state policymakers and advocates can address this problem through effective legislation.

This issue brief provides policy recommendations and highlights successful state legislation from 2023 to reduce criminal justice system-involvement for people with mental illness. Many of the new state laws described in this brief were championed by NAMI State Organizations and their advocates. The brief covers five policy areas:

  • Diversion
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Conditions in Custody
  • Competency Restoration
  • Civil Commitment

Due to the limited scope of this brief and the breath of issues impacting those with mental health conditions who are justice system-involved, this report is not comprehensive of all issue areas and related legislation.

The brief is the first publication in a larger series – NAMI’s 2023 State Legislation Issue Brief Series – which will also examine new state mental health laws from 2023 addressing access to care, 988 and crisis services, and youth mental health.


State policies should prioritize diverting people with mental health conditions to treatment and services at every opportunity — before arrest, after arrest and at all points within the justice system. For those who are already justice-involved, states should prioritize efforts to connect individuals with mental health conditions to care that supports recovery during and after incarceration.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).