The arrest of a loved one can be very upsetting and determining how best to assist can be overwhelming. You will find the information included on NAMI’s Handling the Arrest of a Family Member page very helpful where you will learn about important topics including:
Ways to help:
• Handling Medication - Inmates have the right to receive health care while incarcerated. However, jails/prisons most often do not offer state-of-the-art health care and often are unable to provide the specific medication an inmate might have originally been prescribed. Inmates will not receive treatment while incarcerated if they do not ask.
Immediately following the arrest of a loved one, contact the police department or bail commissioner to inform them of your loved one’s mental health condition and medical needs. They might permit a family member to bring medication to the jail. Be sure the medication is in the original pharmaceutical packaging with dispensing instructions.
• If Your Loved One is Not Receiving Treatment:
o Contact the medical staff at the facility – note: contact may be limited/difficult due to confidentiality regulations.
o If a family member is permitted to bring medication to the jail (dependent on jail policy), bring the individual’s current medication and all relevant psychiatric records to the facility. Be sure the medication is in the original pharmaceutical packaging with dispensing instructions.
o If the inmate has a personal psychiatrist, he/she may be able to see the individual in jail (at the expense of the individual or family member financially responsible). The provider’s treatment plan is usually reviewed by the Department of Corrections, which will inform the prison’s mental health staff’s decisions on treatment.
o If your loved one is suicidal, contact the medical staff of the prison and ask for your loved one to be put on a suicide watch.
• If Your Loved One is Being Mistreated:
o File a formal complaint directly with the facility in question.
o Contact the State’s Department of Corrections office is the issue remains unresolved.
o Contact your State's Governor.
o Contact your state’s protection and advocacy agency, which is responsible for protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities.
o You can also contact your State’s affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
o Use the American Bar Association’s Find Legal Help search function where you can locate the legal referral service for your area. In seeking counsel, you may wish to consider finding a lawyer that specializes in Prisoners’ Rights law with experience representing individuals with mental health conditions.
Finally, NAMI has developed a series of informational videos that answer common questions asked by family members whose incarcerated loved one has a mental illness. You can view the Criminal Justice Videos in the Public Policy section of our website.