Criminal Justice System
What Happens When My Family Member is Arrested?
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. Saying “how could you?” or “AGAIN?” is only casting judgment on the individual. Remember, dealing with a mental health condition is a lot of work in itself and sometimes, poor decisions are made. Stigma also exists. Your family member/friend may have been minding their own business and someone else felt uncomfortable. Remain calm yourself. After hanging up, then call a crisis line yourself if you need to.
If your family member/friend is being held in a city jail, remind them of the right to have an attorney present if being questioned by police officers or detectives. 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 their physical and mental condition, diagnosis, medications, etc., with the staff conducting the screening, which includes Sheriff’s nursing staff and Jail Mental Health Service staff. It is important your family member feels safe to speak openly with the mental health screeners.
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 – 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 condition and any information that
may be beneficial to the case. Provide the attorney with an extensive medical/psychiatric/social/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 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.