My Arrested Family Member Has a Mental Illness, What Do I Do?
A step-by-step guide to help families cope with the criminal justice system in Solano County; when a family member who suffers from mental illness is arrested.
STEP ONE: SUPPORT YOUR RELATIVE
If your family member/friend calls you and says that they have been arrested, help them to stay calm and let them know you are there to help;
Remind them that they have a right to have an attorney present if being questioned by police officers or detectives. Do NOT discuss their case with them as all phone conversations are tape recorded;
Tell them that they can expect to be interviewed by jail medical mental health staff. Let them know that it is OK for them to discuss their physical and mental condition, medications, etc. It is important that they feel safe to speak openly on these topics but not about their case facts.
STEP TWO: CONTACT THE JAIL
Call the Solano County Main Jail at (707) 421-7111 and ask for the court arraignment date, court address, the booking number, the location of your family member and the dates and times when visits are permitted.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you know or suspect that your family member has recent suicide attempts or thoughts or he/she is currently considering it, call the County Jail where your family member is retained and ask to speak with the Jail Sergeant. Give the Jail Sergeant all the information you have about the suicide threat and the mental illness.
STEP THREE: CONTACT THE JAIL MEDICAL DEPARTMENT
Call (707) 421-7111 and ask to speak with a Mental Health Nurse in the County Jail Medical Department. After business hours, ask to speak with the booking jail nurse.
IMPORTANT: Due to patient confidentiality laws, the staff will not be able to give you information about your family member’s medical or mental condition without a signed consent, but they are able to obtain information from you.
STEP FOUR: PATIENT’S RIGHTS
County Jails are required to make mental health treatment services available to all inmates who need services;
Educate family members on the requirement of detention facilities regarding mentally ill inmates; and
If, during detention, the inmate is transferred to a psychiatric facility, all patients’ rights apply while in the psychiatric facility.
STEP FIVE: DECIDNG ON LEGAL REPRESENTATION
Your family member may want to retain a private attorney or use the Public Defender’s Office. A Public/Conflict Defender will be assigned at arraignment if your relative does not have or cannot afford a private attorney. Do not be afraid to use the Public/Conflict Defender. Public/Conflict Defenders have detailed knowledge of the “system” as it pertains to those who need mental health services.
If your family member decides to retain a private attorney, be sure to find one that is well versed in helping people with mental illness and understands not only the law, but how to access the treatment the treatment facilities and mental health services available.
STEP SIX: SEND A FAX TO THE PUBLIC/CONFLICT DEFENDERS OFFICE
Public Defender office fax: (707) 784-6747
Conflict Defender office fax: (707) 784-6706
Prepare a fax requesting that your relative be screened for placement in the mental health unit. Head the fax with the following information for your relative:
- Your relatives full legal name
- Date of Birth
- Booking Number
In the body of the fax include:
- His/her diagnosis
- Thier psychiatris's name, phone number and address
- Indicate the medications that are prescribed for your family member by name, dosage, and time of day to be administered
- Note if a particular medication has proven to be ineffective, or has dangerous and/or uncomfortable side effects
- Note if a suicide attempt is a possibility or if there are any other serious concerns
- Describe any other urgent medical conditions, apart from mental illness, that might require immediate attendion such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, etc.; and the necessary medications to be given
- Include thier medical doctor's name, address and phone number
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT address any pending charges against your family member in this fax. Fax is for medical information only!
Keep a copy of this fax for future reference.
On the cover page, indicate whether your relative has provided you with a written confidentiality waiver. If your relative has not previously done so, ask that he/she be asked to sign one while in jail.
Bail: 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 wandering 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: The attorney who appeared at arraignment and accepted the case for the Public/Conflict Defender’s Office will not be the attorney handling the case. You should call the Public Defender’s Office to learn the name of the Public/Conflict Defender assigned to your family member’s case.
Public Defender: Fairfield (707) 784-6700; Vallejo (707) 553-5241
Conflict Defender: Fairfield (707) 784-6755; Vallejo (707) 553-5671
It may take several days for an attorney to be assigned and police reports, etc. to be obtained. Phone calls and faxed information should be made directly to the assigned attorney by name. Remember, it is the inmate not you, who is the client; so the attorney may not be able to share all information with you. Provide the assigned attorney with an extensive medical/psychiatric/social/educational history of your family member. This information will be very useful in pursuing the best outcome for your loved one.
Supporting and coping with a loved one suffering from a mental illness or brain disorder can be extremely challenging and stressful. Knowledge, as well as your love and fortitude, will be key in helping you to become a strong and effective support system for your family member. For information about support groups and educational programs provided free of charge in your area contact, NAMI-California-the State’s Voice on Mental Illness at (916) 567-0163 or on the internet at www.namicalifornia.org.