She's mentally ill, not a criminal
May 4, 2011 1:19 PM   Subscribe

A mentally ill family member (depressive and bipolar, on medication) has just been arrested for stealing from her employer in northern Arkansas. She, a very fragile person, is in the lockup overnight and I'm afraid for her.

Google reveals that Legal Aid doesn't take criminal cases. I'm seeing lots of organizations for mental health, but not a lot that mention legal advocacy for the mentally ill. We're in a far-away state and feeling helpless. Any resources you can think of?
posted by eve harrington to Law & Government (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What part of Arkansas? Specifically, if you can say, what town? ("North" Arkansas covers a huge area). Mefi mail me.
posted by jayder at 1:23 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might try to contact NAMI in your area to see if they can point you in the direction of someone who can help. Or the Mental Health Council of Arkansas
posted by goggie at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

yeah, northwest is pretty much different than the entire state and it'd be helpful to know if we're looking for help in that area, or say, something like jonesboro.
posted by nadawi at 1:39 PM on May 4, 2011

Benton County.
posted by eve harrington at 1:40 PM on May 4, 2011

Benton County has a public defenders office. Being what it is, public defenders usually have experience representing mentally ill people. If you think she can't make it over night, it's probably worth trying to contact them, since they may not be assigned to her case until the morning.
posted by yarly at 1:45 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

(But I can say that if this were my relative I thought might be in danger overnight in jail, I'd be loading up my credit cards and pounding the pavement to find the best criminal defense attorney in Arkansas to spring her. It is entirely possible that the best criminal defense attorney will be her public defender, though.)
posted by yarly at 1:48 PM on May 4, 2011

I just found this link to legal aid too that might be more directly helpful.
posted by goggie at 1:51 PM on May 4, 2011

If nothing else, you can call the jail directly (if she's in the Benton County Jail, the switchboard number is 479-271-1011) and tell them about your concerns. They may or may not already be aware that she has mental issues, but it won't hurt to bring it to their attention so they can take appropriate steps to monitor her safety.
posted by amyms at 3:45 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Criminal lawyer here, working in mental health.

1. Call the jail. Tell them that she has 'custody management issues', has a mental illness, requires medication and would be very vulnerable in custody. Ask them for their fax number and fax them the same information, including type and dose of medication if you know it. This is partially proactive, partially arse-covering if they don't treat her properly and something bad happens.

2. Can you arrange for her to be admitted as a voluntary patient to a psych facility? It may expedite her release and also open up some options in terms of resolving the case*.

3. The public defender's office is your best bet. They are the most experienced in terms of handling anything to do with the intersection of mental illness and crime.

*4. A possible way of resolving this may be to demonstrate to the prosecution that the theft occurred in the context of insufficient treatment and that now that she is being treated more assertively the likelihood of a repeat is lessened or eliminated. I've successfully negotiated the withdrawal of charges in similar circumstances here in Australia. Often, police and victims are open to non-judicial outcomes if they feel that the person is receiving help that was not available at the time of the offence. No guarantees obviously, but it's worth a try.

Good luck.
posted by tim_in_oz at 4:23 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thank you all so much. We've started this process, armed with a lot of this advice. Please keep it coming, and honestly, thanks.
posted by eve harrington at 5:56 PM on May 4, 2011

this page from NAMI Sacramento offers a very detailed description of the process for supporting a mentally ill loved one who has been arrested. With this as a guide, you should be able to ask the right questions.
posted by metahawk at 8:47 PM on May 4, 2011

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