The criminal justice system is often unfair to defendants with mental illness, with key personnel having limited knowledge of the needs of those suffering from these illnesses. To address this problem, Connecticut Appleseed coordinated pro bono legal services that were volunteered to write a handbook directed primarily at attorneys representing such persons to help familiarize them with mental health issues under Connecticut law. In 2007 we distributed the 80-page handbook, entitled “Mental Illness, Your Client and The Criminal Law” to attorneys throughout the state.

Later in 2007 the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-CT) contacted us to say that they saw a tremendous need for a similar handbook – but one directed at parents and other advocates rather than targeted at attorneys. After recruiting pro bono legal assistance from the NYC office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton (“Sheppard Mullin”), Appleseed collaborated with NAMI-CT to develop a new guide that will help parents know how to navigate Connecticut’s criminal justice system as it relates to adults age 18 and up with a mental illness.


Parents of and advocates for adults afflicted with some form of mental illness need to understand how the criminal justice system works in order to work to the best advantage with an attorney. NAMI-CT had seen that caretakers need an easily-understandable legal guide that would help them know what to expect from the criminal justice system. After helping Sheppard Mullin’s volunteer attorneys to define the key issues and access key in-state mental health experts, this new guide began to take shape in late 2008.

Parent/Family/Advocate Guide Completed in May, 2009

Connecticut Appleseed and NAMI-CT released “Understanding The Criminal Justice System: A Guide for Adults with Mental Illness, Advocates & Families” after rigorous review of the by members of the state’s legal and mental health communities. User-friendliness, clarity and accuracy were the editing priorities in order to maxime its usefulness.

NAMI-CT is taking the lead in disseminating copies of the new guide throughout the state. After printing an initial 500 copies at Connecticut Appleseed’s own expense, a donor stepped forward to fund the printing costs for an additional 500 copies – all of which were delivered to NAMI-CT for their further dissemination.