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NAMI CA Public Policy Position on Criminal Justice

Ultimate Responsibility of Mental Health Systems

Mental health systems have ultimate responsibility for treating all people with severe mental illness. A substantial number of people with severe mental illness require twenty-four hour, seven day a week structured care, either for long or short periods of time. It is never appropriate to allow the care of such persons to be shifted to the criminal justice system.

Therapeutic Jurisprudence

NAMI California endorses the principal of therapeutic jurisprudence, which emphasizes that the law should be used, whenever possible, to promote the mental and physical wellbeing of the people it affects. For example, in a system characterized by therapeutic jurisprudence, people with serious mental illnesses charged with non-violent crimes are diverted into programs designed to address their treatment and service needs, rather than incarcerated. Individuals with serious mental illnesses convicted of serious crimes are provided with humane and appropriate treatment while incarcerated. And, these individuals are provided with appropriate linkages to needed services and supports upon discharge to enable them to successfully reenter their communities.

Education at All Levels of Judicial and Legal Systems

NAMI California believes that education about serious mental illnesses at all
levels of judicial and legal systems is crucial to the appropriate disposition of cases involving offenders with serious mental illnesses. Judges, lawyers, police officers, correctional officers, parole and probation officers, law enforcement personnel, court officers, and emergency medical transport and service personnel should be required to complete at least 20 hours of training about these disorders. Consumers and family members should be a part of this educational process.


NAMI California believes that state and local mental health authorities must work closely in conjunction with state and local correctional and law enforcement agencies to develop strategies and programs for compassionate intervention by law enforcement, jail diversion, treatment of individuals with serious mental illnesses who are incarcerated, and discharge planning and community reintegration services for individuals with serious mental illnesses released from correctional facilities.

Boot Camps

Youth with serious mental illnesses should never be placed in boot camps, “scared straight,” or similar programs that use punishment as the primary source of behavior change. There is sufficient evidence that these programs are non-therapeutic and cause harm. In some cases, placement in boot camps has led to the unnecessary and tragic deaths of these youths.

Right to Treatment (Regardless of Criminal Status)

Humane and effective treatment for serious mental illnesses while in correctional settings is the constitutional right of inmates with severe mental illnesses. NAMI California strongly urges the enactment of state statutes expanding treatment programs within prison and jail settings, including first line access to new generation medications whenever clinically indicated.

NAMI California endorses state laws and policies establishing systems of community treatment for offenders with serious mental illnesses who are released on parole and/or are in the community on probation or parole status.

Jail Diversion

NAMI California believes that persons who have committed offenses due to states of mind or behavior caused by a serious mental illness do not belong in penal or correctional institutions. Such persons require treatment, not punishment. A prison or jail is never an optimal therapeutic setting.

NAMI California supports a variety of approaches to diverting individuals from unnecessary incarceration into appropriate treatment, including pre-booking (police-based) diversion, post-booking (court-based) diversion, alternative sentencing programs, and post-adjudication diversion (conditional release).

NAMI California considers the law enforcement Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Program to be an invaluable tool in diverting persons with serious mental illness toward treatment rather than jail, and expects all law enforcement agencies to develop similar programs.

NAMI California encourages the development of mental health courts, which combine judicial supervision with community mental health treatment and other support services in order to reduce criminal activity and improve the quality of life of participants.


NAMI California believes that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, dangerous or violent acts committed by persons with serious mental illnesses are the result of neglect or inappropriate or inadequate treatment of their illness. State and local mental health authorities must develop policies and programs to provide care and appropriate treatment for persons who suffer from serious mental illnesses that produce behaviors assessed and labeled by society as “criminal” or “violent.” Where a mental illness and substance abuse co-occur they should be treated with integrated treatment.

Death Penalty

NAMI California opposes the death penalty for persons with serious mental

NAMI California urges California not to execute persons with mental disabilities under the following circumstances:

Defendants shall not be sentenced to death or executed if they have a persistent mental disability, with onset before the offense, characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior as expressed in their conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills.

Defendants shall not be sentenced to death or executed if, at the time of their offense, they had a severe mental disorder or disability that significantly impaired their capacity:

(a) to appreciate the nature, consequences or wrongfulness of their conduct,
(b) to exercise rational judgment in relation to conduct, or
(c) to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law. A disorder manifested primarily by repeated criminal conduct or attributable solely to the acute effects of alcohol or other drugs does not, standing alone, constitute a mental disorder or disability, for purposes of this provision.

Sentences of death shall be reduced to lesser punishment if prisoners under such sentences are found at any time subsequent to sentencing to have a mental disorder or disability that significantly impairs their ability:
(a) to understand and appreciate the nature of the punishment or its purpose,
(b) to understand and communicate information relating the death sentence and any proceedings brought to set it aside, or
(c) to make rational choices about such proceedings.

Insanity Defense

NAMI California supports the retention of the “insanity defense” and favors
the two-prong (“ALI”) test that includes the volitional as well as the
cognitive standard.

“Guilty but Mentally Ill” – NAMI California opposes “guilty but mentally ill” statutes as presently applied because they are used to punish rather than to treat persons with serious mental illnesses who have committed crimes as a consequence of their serious mental illnesses.

“Guilty except for insanity” and other alternative terminology for the insanity defense – NAMI California supports systems that provide comprehensive, longterm care and supervision to individuals who are found “not guilty by reason of insanity”, “guilty except for insanity”, and any other similar terminology used in state statutes

“Informing Juries about the Consequences of Insanity Verdicts” – NAMI California believes that juries in cases where the insanity defense is at issue should be informed about the likely consequences of an insanity verdict to enable them to make a fair decision.

Solitary Confinement

NAMI California opposes the use of solitary confinement in Secure Housing Units (SHU) for individuals living with mental illness that are incarcerated with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

SHU inmates spend up to 23 hours per day locked in their cells. Most SHU cells lack windows or direct access to natural light. Inmates are given minimal outdoor time alone in small, separately secured yards. Inmates eat meals in their cells alone. Inmates have limited access to family visits, cannot make phone calls, and are even limited in their ability to have family photos in their cells.

Due to a lack of mental stimulation, psychological research has found that inmates subjected to solitary confinement suffer from a variety of psychological and psychiatric illnesses. For inmates who are already diagnosed with serious mental illness, such confinement severely exacerbates their conditions. We believe that, even when incarcerated, individuals living with mental illness have a right to humane, effective treatment in the least restrictive but secure setting.

NAMI California supports systems that provide comprehensive, longterm care and supervision to individuals who are found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” “guilty except for insanity,” and any other similar terminology used in state statutes.