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Overlooked: Stories of mental illness and the criminal justice system

March is National Criminal Justice Month. Created by Congress in 2009, this awareness month provides us all an opportunity to explore the impact of the criminal justice system on people with mental illness.

People with mental illness are overrepresented in our nation’s jails and prisons — about 2 million times each year, people with mental illness are booked into jails — yet many are not receiving the care they need while incarcerated.

You have the power to change how our communities understand and address mental illness and the criminal justice system. Get started by adding your name to a petition urging policymakers to decriminalize mental health.

At NAMI, our work is driven by the stories we hear every day — stories from people with mental illness and family members about their experiences with the criminal justice system. Family members don’t know if their loved ones are receiving needed mental health care while incarcerated. People reenter the community without the tools and support to thrive and be well. These are only a small snapshot of the shared experiences that connect people’s individual stories.


NAMI’s new campaign, Overlooked: Stories of Mental Illness & the Criminal Justice System, aims to highlight the impact of the criminal justice system on people with mental illness through personal stories from the people who lived this experience. Like one NAMI advocate from North Carolina, who shared:


“What about people that don't have a support system and they leave that jail with an untreated mental illness, having been treated poorly? Because they are behind a locked door nobody listens. I will continue to share my experience. I want to be part of the solution for people with mental illnesses that are incarcerated.”

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