My loved one is being mistreated in jail/not receiving medication. What can I do to help?

Determining how you can help a loved one after they have been arrested can be overwhelming. NAMI’s Handling the Arrest of a Family Member page has helpful resources and information including the following topics: 

Handling Medication 

Inmates have the right to receive health care while incarcerated, but will not receive treatment while incarcerated if they do not ask. Jails and prisons often do not offer appropriate health care and are often unable to provide specific prescriptions. Immediately following the arrest of a loved one, contact the police department or bail commissioner to inform them of your loved one’s mental health condition and medical needs.  They may permit a family member to bring medication to the jail. 

If Your Loved One is Not Receiving Treatment

  • Contact the medical staff at the facility – note: contact may be limited and/or difficult due to confidentiality regulations.
  • If a family member is permitted to bring medication to the jail (dependent on jail policy), bring the individual’s current medication and all relevant psychiatric records to the facility. Be sure the medication is in the original pharmaceutical packaging with dispensing instructions.
  • You may be able to arrange for your loved one’s psychiatrist  to see them in jail (at the expense of the individual or family member financially responsible). The provider’s treatment plan is usually reviewed by the Department of Corrections, which will inform the prison’s mental health staff on any treatment decisions.
  • If your loved one is suicidal, contact the medical staff of the prison and ask for your loved one to be put on a suicide watch.

If Your Loved One is Being Mistreated

  • File a formal complaint directly with the facility in question. If you are unable to reach the facility by phone and live within close proximity to the facility, a personal visit may be best option for contacting appropriate administrative staff.
  • Contact the state Department of Corrections Office if the issue remains unresolved.
  • Contact the state Governors Office
  • Contact your state’s protection and advocacy agency, which is responsible for protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities.
  • You can also contact your state’s affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Prisoners or detainees with a complaint about conditions must follow all grievance procedures before contacting the ACLU and then send copies of grievance filings and decisions. Use website to locate specific state office.
  • Use the American Bar Association’s “Find Legal Help" search function where you can locate the legal referral service for your area. In seeking counsel, you may wish to consider finding a lawyer that specializes in prisoners’ rights law with experience representing individuals with mental health conditions.

Additional Resources

  • Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC): produces a free, comprehensive online directory (a pdf version of the directory can be mailed upon request to prisoners) of state-specific resources to support prisoners, their families and friends. The directory includes information on prisoners' rights organizations, community organizations, prison literature and arts projects, family and visiting resources, health care and legal resources, and parole and pre-release resources. 
  • National Prisoner Resource List (NPRL): provides information on places where prisoners and their families can find support, advocacy, health care information and outlets for their creativity. The NPRL is sent, free-of-charge, to prisoners upon request and is also available online.
  • FindLaw’s Rights of Inmates: provides a comprehensive list of basic rights for inmates that are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Includes links to finding a civil rights attorney and a do-it-yourself complaint for denial of medical care for a state inmate.
  • Just Detention International is a human rights organization seeking to end sexual abuse in forms of detention. The website provides a state-by-state resource guide to support services for survivors of sexual abuse behind bars who are either still incarcerated or have been released as well as loved ones on the outside searching for ways to help.
  • The Prison Policy Initiative maintains a website offering an up-to-date list of organizations (by state) that provide legal assistance to incarcerated people on civil matters.
NAMI has developed a series of informational Criminal Justice Videos that answer common questions asked by family members whose incarcerated loved one has a mental illness.

Hours of operation Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. EST 

Call: 800-950-NAMI (6264) 

Text: 62640 



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