NAMI Education and Support Programs Serving the Criminal Justice System

By Laura Usher, NAMI CIT Program Manager

Increasingly NAMI Affiliates are noticing opportunities to use NAMI education and support programs to educate criminal justice professionals or individuals and families caught up in the criminal justice system. Judi Evans, executive director of NAMI Florida, says that courts in particular embrace NAMI programs when they see how much we have to offer. “NAMI has resources that courts desperately need.
NAMI Peer-to-Peer and
NAMI Connection are free, and counties often do not have peer support programs available for people involved in mental health courts.”

According to Evans, NAMI Peer-to-Peer is offered in conjunction with several mental health courts in Florida, and one judge even “orders” family members of court participants to attend the NAMI Family-to-Family course.

In addition to the efforts in Florida, many communities around the country use NAMI programs to reach new criminal justice audiences.

For example, NAMI New Mexico currently offers the NAMI Connection support group to prisoners in the general population at Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center. Jim Tritten, NAMI New Mexico’s Connection coordinator and state trainer, says that the prison environment does offer some unique challenges, but his hope is that NAMI Connection will prove a valuable addition to the prison and give NAMI New Mexico more opportunities to provide support and education to prisoners in the prison’s mental health unit.

NAMI South Carolina’s Director of Education Programs Betsey O’Brien reports offering Parents and Teachers as Allies to a County Juvenile Justice director and his staff, teaching them the early-onset signs of mental illness in children and adolescents. Early feedback from that training was extremely positive, and O’Brien it will open doors for further opportunities to work with the Department of Juvenile Justice, providing training to professionals and education and support to families in the juvenile justice system.

In Our Own Voice program is widely used as a component of CIT training for law enforcement officers to put a human face on mental illness and provide the perspective of an individual living with mental illness. Laura Usher, CIT program manager at NAMI says, “Many officers have only seen people in mental health crisis. It’s a new experience to talk with someone in recovery and to be able to ask questions.”

Evans, in Florida, says the benefits for individuals and families involved in the justice system participating in NAMI programs are huge. “I firmly believe in the power of education. It leads to less recidivism.” But Evans also wants NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates to know that reaching out to people involved in the justices system opens doors for NAMI as well, “Working with the justice system provides us opportunities for future collaboration and opens up possibilities for partnering on grant funding.”

NAMI’s Education, Training and Peer Support Center website to learn more about NAMI education and support programs. NAMI State Organizations and NAMI Affiliates with questions about how to adapt programs to new settings should contact NAMI staff directly at


Judi Evans, Executive Director
NAMI Florida, Inc

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