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My Loved One's Been Arrested

My Family Member Has Been Arrested - What Do I Do?

Dealing with the criminal justice system in addition to the mental health system can be challenging. We’ve created a step-by-step guide to help families cope with navigating the criminal justice system in Alameda County when a family member who experiences mental health challenges is arrested. 


If your family member calls to say they have been arrested, there are couple of things you can do. 

  • First, focus on keeping your family member calm by offering your help and support. 
  • Second, if your relative is being held in a city jail, remind them of their right to have an attorney present if being questioned by police or detectives.
  • Third, if your relative is at the county jail (Santa Rita or Glen Dyer Detention Facility), they will be screened upon arrival for mental illness and general health concerns. Tell your family member to be direct and honest to benefit as much as possible from this mental health screening process. Assure them that it is OK to discuss their physical and mental health conditions, diagnoses, medications, etc., with the staff conducting the screening, which includes medical nursing staff and/or jail mental health service staff (CJMH). It is important that your family member feels safe to speak openly with the nurses and mental health screeners.


To find out if your relative is in jail, you can use the Inmate Locator link by going to https://www.acgov.org/sheriff_app/.  You may also want to contact the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office website for further information about the jail. It can also be located by going to http://www.acgov.org/government/departments.htm. The Sheriff’s Department can provide you with information about visiting hours. 

Once you locate your loved one in jail: 

  • Call the jail mental health (CJMH) intake unit (ITR) at 925-551-6905. 
  • Inform the staff or leave a message that your family member has a mental illness, describe the diagnosis, and share any other concerns.
  • Ask staff about your relative’s status and estimated length of stay at this facility.
  • Ask if they are expected to be released directly from the jail. If they are going to be released directly from the jail ask for the time and place, so you can be there to pick them up.
  • If your relative is really struggling, ask if the ITR staff can arrange to have them taken to a psychiatric hospital for a “5150” involuntary three-day hold for treatment and evaluation. 
  • Ask about your family member’s location (housing unit and pod number) and their booking number. 
  • When visiting the jail always bring a few quarters for a locker to store your personal belongings while you visit your family member. Photo ID is also required.


Click here for the Inmate Medication Information Form:

  • The medical information you provide, will help assist mental health staff to select the best treatment for your relative while they are in custody. While continuity of care is important, jail mental health staff must conduct its own assessment of your relative’s condition and may not necessarily prescribe the same medications. Some psychiatric medications cannot be used in jail because of historic misuse. 
  • The jail mental health staff is prohibited by law from giving anyone information about a client’s status unless they have the client’s written consent, but the staff can receive information from relatives or friends. On the cover page of this form, share whether your relative has provided you with a written confidentiality waiver. If your relative has not provided you with a written confidentiality waiver, ask that they sign one while in jail.
  • Once your relative has been booked, fax the document described in Step Three to the appropriate numbers below. Faxes can be sent 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Mental Health Services (CJMH) fax numbers:

ITR (CJMH intake/booking) 925-803-8008

CJMH mental health clinic 925-551-672


  • If your relative is not going to be released right away, you can contact the CJMH Court Advocacy Project (CAP) for assistance with the court process in selected courtrooms. The CAP staff can assist you with information, court dates, locations, etc.
  • CAP staff may assist the defense attorney, prosecutor, and the judge in implementing an alternative sentence rather than incarceration in a jail or prison. This program is available free of charge. Tel: (510) 627-4992 Fax: (510) 627-4995


If you have any difficulty with this process, you can contact the following resources that are specifically available to assist families who have relatives with mental health challenges. 

  • The Mental Health Association Family Advocate program at 510-835-5010 
  • The Behavioral Health Care Services Family Relations Manager at 510-567-8037 
  • The Family Education and Resource Center at 888-896-FERC (3372). www.ferc.org


Bail: When considering posting bail for your family member, you should ask yourself the following questions. Will your family member be able to comply with the terms of the bail and appear in court when required? If your loved one wasn’t in jail, would they be wandering the streets? No one wants a loved one to remain incarcerated for any length of time. It is an unpleasant experience for them as well as the family. If jail is the safest place for your loved one, that should be a deciding factor in whether you post bail or not. 

Working with an attorney: If your relative will be represented in court by a public defender, call the Public Defender’s office at the court where the case is being heard and ask for the name and phone number of the attorney who will be handling the case. If you do not reach the attorney, be sure to leave a message requesting a return call with your name, phone number, your family member’s name and, if possible, the case number (PFN) and court date. Due to the attorney-client confidentiality requirement, there will be information the attorney may not be able to share with you. Inform the attorney of your family member’s condition and any information that may be beneficial to the case. Provide the attorney with an extensive history of your family member in writing and include hospitalization, diagnosis information, medication treatment, and the contact information of those doctors/clinicians and of facilities that have treated your family member in the past. This information will be very useful in pursuing the best outcome for your loved one. Attorneys are extremely busy and many will appreciate written or faxed correspondence. 

Public Defenders’ Offices in Alameda County: 

Oakland 510-272-6600

Hayward 510-670-5000

Fremont 510-795-2600

Pleasanton 925-551-6863

This informational guide was adapted from a document written by NAMI volunteers based on their own personal experience to help families navigate the system and edited for Alameda County by the CJMH program. We are not attorneys, and this is not intended to be a substitute for professional legal advice. Please assist your family member in obtaining proper legal representation.