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

Jail and Prisons

  • Correctional officer training. Jails and prisons can train correctional officers on how to recognize mental illness and how to respond in a crisis. Many communities have adapted crisis intervention team (CIT) programs which train law enforcement to train correctional officers.
  • Treatment, support and education during incarceration. It is essential that people get treatment and support while incarcerated to remain stable, work towards recovery and prepare to return to the community.
  • Communicating about medical needs. Frequently, people entering jails and prisons are not screened for mental health conditions. NAMI can help families connect with jail and prison staff to ensure that an individual’s medical needs, medications and suicide risk are clearly communicated.
  • Solitary confinement reform.  All too often, people with mental illnesses in jail and prison are held in isolation without human contact for days, weeks or years. This isolation is extremely damaging to mental health, and jail and prison leaders in some states are reducing or eliminating the practice.
  • Reducing prison rape. Sexual assault is all too common in jails and prisons. Prisoners living with mental illness are at very high risk. A federal law, called the Prison Rape Elimination Act, is designed to help.

Local Examples:

  • NAMI Maine led the way in bringing CIT for corrections programs to communities throughout Maine.    
  • NAMI California worked with jails and prisons in California to develop simple inmate medication information forms that families can submit directly to jail or prison mental health staff to help ensure that individuals get the treatment they need quickly.
  • NAMI Oklahoma offers the NAMI Connection support group to prisoners with mental illness.
  • Cook County County (Ill.) Sheriff Dart created a mental health helpline for inmates and families.

Additional Resources: