National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Community Programs

Local leaders in many communities around the country are working to keep people with mental illnesses out jails and prisons. While state and federal policies can support these efforts, most lasting change happens at the local level. Strong partnerships are the key to success. NAMI State Organizations and Affiliates are key partners and work closely with police chiefs, sheriffs, judges and other criminal justice leaders as well as with mental health system leaders.

Learn about other local programs making a difference in the criminal justice system:
Prevention - Police and Jail Diversion - Courts - Jails and Prisons - Reentry and Community Support


People living with untreated serious mental illness who have co-occurring substance use disorders are at a particularly high risk for involvement with the justice system. Services that can reduce this risk and keep people out of the justice system are similar to the services that can help reduce recidivism of someone is leaving jail or prison. These services include:

  • School-based services for early identification and intervention, which help parents, schools and service providers identify children and youth at risk of involvement in the justice system.
  • Assertive community treatment (ACT) or Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT), which provides 24/7 wraparound care through a team of providers for individuals with high needs.
  • Supported Housing and Housing First, which provide housing to individuals that are homeless and include built-in services and supports for mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Integrated mental health and substance abuse care. Most people with mental illness who are involved in the justice system have a co-occurring substance abuse condition. Service systems should work together to serve individuals’ needs.
  • Peer education and support. NAMI offers an array of peer education programs and support groups to help individuals cope with illness, build social connections and stay out of the justice system.
  • Trauma-informed care is an approach to engaging people with histories of trauma that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives.
  • Illness self-management and recovery is a personalized approach that teaches people with serious mental illness to manage their illnesses and work towards personal goals, in collaboration with care providers and other supporters. The NAMI Peer-to-Peer education program uses this approach.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is targeted at changing distressing or damaging thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
  • Justice Reinvestment is a strategy for state leaders to examine their criminal justice systems, and propose cost-saving measures that can keep people out of the justice system while saving state dollars. Often justice reinvestment involves supporting mental health and substance abuse services instead incarceration or to prevent recidivism.   

Local examples:

Additional Resources: