How to help when someone with mental illness is arrested.
Contact Gabrielle at the Mental Health Unit at the county jail at 518-388-4300 and ask for ‘Mental Health’.
Most arrests happen spontaneously if a police officer observes a crime or is told a crime has occurred. Once a person is arrested and is taken into custody the police have the right to search the person and if drugs or weapons are found, those charges are added to the original ones. At the police station, a person in custody may be given an appearance ticket to come back at another time and is released, or he is kept in custody.
From there the person is usually taken from the local police station (city, town or village) directly to a judge for arraignment to hear the charges and for the judge to decide to release the person, set bail or send him to jail. He can be held in the local police lockup until arraignment, often overnight. If you can find where the person is, you should get him an attorney before arraignment, or a public defender may appear and be assigned to him. The judge can also adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal (ACD) or release the person in his own recognizance.
If it is a minor crime, the defendant may plead guilty and be sentenced to community service, pay a fine or be sent to jail. Even after the individual is arrested, it’s not too late to do something. Police have discretion as to who to arrest, who to hospitalize and who to ignore. If someone you care about is in a situation where they could be arrested and you are there, ask the police not to arrest the person. You might say “He just needs his medication. I’ll come with him to the hospital”.
Even after his arrest, you may be able to get the person in effect, “un-arrested”. Find out where the person is being held and go there, or call if you can’t go. Talk to the police and ask if they can drop the charges, or if not, at least let the person out to come back to court later. Offer to take as much responsibility for the person as you feel comfortable doing. If you can promise to bring the person to court, the police may release someone who otherwise would have “gone through the system.”
If you are present when a person is being arrested or when he is in custody, the most helpful thing you can do is tell the person not to talk to the police. What he says can be used against him in court. During the first 24 hours after the person was arrested, you will probably not be able to do anything about getting the person medications. But by going to the arraignment you may be able to help someone avoid going to jail or even help get the charges lowered or dismissed. By being there, you demonstrate to the judge this defendant has ties to the community and people who will help him return to court. It’s also a chance to give the defense attorney information about the person’s mental health situation.
Call the police station where the person was arrested to find when and where the arraignment is. You may need to speak to the clerk at the courthouse to get a sense of when the person will be arraigned. If you can’t afford an attorney, a person charged with a crime has the right to a defense attorney even if you can’t afford one. For help obtaining an attorney and individual advocacy issues, call Bob Corliss, Forensic Consultant of NAMI Schenectady, 518-377-6138.
If the case occurs in the city of Schenectady, the defendant may be eligible to have his case heard in the Alternative Treatment Court where Judge Robert Hoffman presides. If the defendant qualifies on the basis of a misdemeanor charge, a mental health diagnosis and a willingness to participate in a treatment program overseen by the probation department,it is possible to avoid a more punitive sentence. If the defendant successfully completes the mental health treatment program, which can also include drug treatment, the defendant will have his criminal charges dismissed or reduced. For more information, please contact the probation department at 518-388-4330 and ask for the officer assigned to the treatment court.If the defendant retains the public defender, the defender office has an attorney assigned to the treatment court.
There also is an Alternative Treatment Court in Schenectady county court for cases involving non-violent felony charges. Cases in County Court originate in lower courts throughout the county.
In serious cases in which there is a question about whether the defendant is competent to stand trial and where there is some consideration to invoke Criminal procedure Law section 730, please feel free to consult with Bob Corliss of NAMI. That also holds for very serious cases in which there is consideration that the defendant should enter a plea of “Not responsible because of mental disease or mental defect”.
Much of the above is from a 35-page booklet “How to Help When a Person with Mental Illness is Arrested”. (Call NAMI NYS for a copy at 518-462-2000.) There is also information on probation and parole, the meaning of an arrest warrant and how to “clear up a warrant” for the person’s arrest for violation of probation. NAMI also has information on jail diversion, alternative treatment courts; booklet for professionals “Working with People with Mental Illness Involved in the Criminal Justice System” & a forensic resource list.
Pertinent phone numbers:
- Sheriff’s office at jail, 518-388-4300
- District Attorney Robert Carney, 518-388-4364
- Public Defender Stephen Signore, 518-386-2266
- Probation Director Thoma Zampella, 518-388-4330
- Inmate Services Coordinator Bob Elwell, 518-388-4503
- Schenectady Police Court, 518-382-5239.