Mental Illness Arrests

A step-by-step guide to help families cope with the criminal justice system in El Dorado County when a family member who suffers from a brain disorder (mental illness) is arrested.

Step One: Support Your Relative

If your family member/friend calls you and says that he/she has been arrested, help him/her stay calm and offer your help and support.

If your family member/friend is being held in a county jail, remind him/her of the right to have an attorney present if being questioned by police officers or detectives.

If he/she is already at one of the county jail facilities, he/she will be screened for mental illness, as well as other health concerns upon arrival. It is very important that they be direct and honest to benefit as much as possible from this screening process. Assure your family member that it is OK to discuss his/her physical and mental condition, diagnosis, medications, etc., with the staff conducting the screening, which includes Sheriff’s nursing staff and Jail Mental Health Service Staff. It is important your family member feels safe to speak openly with the mental health screeners.

Step Two: Contact The Jail

Call the jail that is holding your family member and ask to speak to the Duty Sergeant. Or him/her that your family member suffers from a mental illness and describe the diagnosis and any other concerns you might have. Inquire as to your relative’s status and estimated length of stay at the facility. If he/she is going to be released, inquire as to the time and place so that you may pick them up. If your relative is severely ill, ask if there is a possibility that the psychiatric health facility could be notified for a “5150” involuntary three-day hold for treatment and evaluation.

If your relative is not going to be released directly from the jail, be sure to ask for the court arraignment date and address.

Step Three: County Jail Information

Information is available on the Sheriff's Office website. Use the links on the web page to access visiting hours, mailing address and frequently asked questions.

When visiting the jail facilities, photo identification is required.

Step Four: Send A Fax

Complete the Historical Information Form(PDF, 158KB). Print, complete, and fax or email as instructed below.

If this form is not available, immediately prepare a fax requesting that your relative be screened for placement in the mental health unit.

Begin this fax with your relative’s:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Booking number
  • Location

In the body of the fax include:

  • His/her diagnosis
  • His/her psychiatrist’s name, phone number and address
  • The medications that are prescribed for your family member by name, dosage and time of day to be administered
    • Whether a particular medication has proven to be ineffective or has dangerous and/or uncomfortable side effects
  • Any history of suicide attempts/threats or other violent intentions in the recent past.
    • Briefly describe the events and when they occurred.
  • Any other urgent medical conditions that might require immediate attention such as diabetes, high blood pressure, seizures, heart problems, etc., and medications currently prescribed for those conditions.
    • Include his/her medical doctor’s name, address and phone number for verification purposes.
    • The medical information you provide is tremendously valuable in making an assessment and will help the mental health staff select the best treatment for your relative.

There is a clear preference for maintaining effective current treatment. However, the Jail Mental Health staff must conduct their own assessment of your relative’s condition and may not necessarily prescribe exactly the same medications.

Important: Do not address any pending charges against your family member in this fax. It is for medical information only!

Keep a copy of this fax for future reference. If your family member is transferred to a different facility you will need to fax this information again.

Fax the document to (530) 621-3783. This number is for mental health information only. Faxes can be sent 24 hours a day.

Without a signed release of information form, confidentiality requirements prevent Correctional Medical Health staff from providing you any information. This release of information form must be signed by your mentally ill relative while he/she is at the facility.

Communication with staff can be improved by designating one person or family member as the contact person.

Step Five: Deciding On Legal Representation

Your family member may want to retain a private attorney or use the Public Defenders Office.

Provide information. Provide the attorney with an extensive medical/psychiatric/social/ educational history of your family member. This information presented in writing will be very useful in pursuing the best outcome for your loved one.

Private Attorney

  • If your relative has a private attorney, contact him/her and provide him/her pertinent information regarding your relative’s case and mental health condition.
  • If your family member decides to retain a private attorney, be sure to select one that is well versed in helping people with mental illness. He/she must understand not only the law, but also how to access the treatment facilities and mental health services that are available.
  • A private attorney will grant you more time, but remember you are paying for that access.

Public Defenders Office

  • If your relative does not have, or cannot afford an attorney, a Public Defender will be assigned to him/her at the arraignment.
  • Do not be afraid to use the Public Defender. Public Defenders often have knowledge of “the system’ as it pertains to those who need mental health services.
  • At the arraignment you can provide to the Public Defender pertinent information concerning both the legal issues and mental health matters.
  • This should be a brief statement (preferably written) concerning the current circumstances, diagnosis, and relevant history of your relative’s mental illness.
  • The more information the better—but be concise and to the point.
  • Public Defenders are extremely busy and do not have much time for telephone calls. He/she will appreciate written or faxed correspondence. Remember, it is the inmate, not you, who is the attorney’s client.


  • Consider carefully the posting of bail for your family member. No one wants a loved one to remain in jail.
  • Being in jail is an unpleasant experience for them as well as the family. However, you must ask yourself the following question: Will my family member be able to comply with the terms of the bail and appear in court when required?
  • Also, jail may be a safer place for a person with severe mental illness who is in crisis rather than having him/her wandering the streets with no help at all. At least in jail he/she will be fed, will have shelter and will be given access to medication treatments.


Supporting and coping with a loved one who suffers from a brain disorder can be extremely challenging and stressful. Knowledge, as well as your love and fortitude, will be instrumental in helping you to provide strong and effective support to your family member.

For information about support groups and educational programs provided free of charge in your area, contact NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.