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A Road Map through the Criminal Justice System for Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families

Criminal Justice Guide by NAMI Mass

Presented by NAMI Massachusetts, this guide is for people with mental illness, their families and their loved ones. In times of crisis, far too often families are uninformed and lose the opportunity to help prevent arrest, jail, and even prosecution, when their loved one is experiencing a psychiatric crisis. In these instances, what may look like wrongful behavior is really a symptom of their illness and a cry for treatment rather than criminalization.

Download or view the helpful 70-page guide

NAMI Resource Guide press release_FINAL

Gun Control and NAMI Mass


Read the testimony that was given before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.  They had a Legislative Hearing at the Wilmington High School on the 60 + bills submitted on Gun Control.  June Binney, representing NAMI Mass and the Crisis Intervention and Diversion Project, waded into the middle of this huge policy debate and issued the following testimony.

You can also download the testimony here


Testimony of June S. Binney, Criminal Justice Project Director

National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts

 August 12, 2013

Honorable Chairs and Members of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security:

My name is June Binney, and I am the Criminal Justice Project Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass).

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Since 1979, NAMI has been advocating for access to services and treatment, and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and fighting the stigma associated with mental illness.

I have worked for 30 years on issues related to mental illness and violence as an attorney, administrator and policy maker. I have overseen mental health and medical services in courts, jails and prisons throughout the Commonwealth and in New York City. As General Counsel at Bridgewater State Hospital, I conducted numerous commitment hearings where I had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person in question was mentally ill and dangerous because of mental illness.

Currently, I am privileged to be working to bring training on mental illness to every police department and academy in the Commonwealth. The major goals of this project are:

To decrease stigma about mental illness, safely diffuse difficult situations, avoid unnecessary arrests and incarceration, and maximize the opportunity for people with mental illness to receive the services they need.

We at NAMI Mass are here today to add our voice to the critical and very complex task before you of crafting effective gun control measures.  We are gravely concerned about the misperceptions that have led some to believe that simply keeping guns out of the hands of anyone with a mental health diagnosis will prevent all gun violence. In the aftermath of recent tragedies that have involved guns, it is incumbent upon us all to take a thoughtful and reasoned approach and not be ruled by emotion and an understandable desire to find a quick fix.

There are widespread misperceptions linking mental illness and violence, and the challenge for us all lies in educating ourselves about what the research actually shows. Only then can we make informed, meaningful, responsive policy decisions on gun control.

First, it is important to recognize that mental illness affects 1 in 4 people, or upwards of 70 million people in the US.

A recent national survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 46 percent of those surveyed agreed that “people with serious mental illness are, by far, more dangerous than the general population.”

Yet the consensus among experts is that most violence is not committed by people who are mentally ill, and most mentally ill people are not violent.

In fact, people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators –in fact, those with mental illness are more than twice as likely as those without mental illness to be the victims of violent crime.

The vast majority of violence in our country is not perpetrated by persons with serious mental disorders. The best available estimates indicate that of all the violent acts committed in the US, only 4% to 5% are attributable to people with mental illness.

Other demographic and socioeconomic factors weigh far more heavily on the likelihood of committing violence than mental illness; those being young, single, economically disadvantaged and male.

Active substance abuse, and particularly alcohol abuse, substantially increases the risk of violence by anyone, whether or not they have mental illness.

Among people with major mental illness, the risk of violence is elevated among the small percentage of those who already have histories of violent behavior, and the fraction of those whose symptoms include violent ideation.

Research suggests that individuals with mental illnesses who are engaged in continuous and regular treatment are less likely to commit violent acts than those who are not engaged in appropriate mental health treatment.

And that includes self-inflicted violence. Suicide is a major public health concern, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, over 52% of completed suicides were by firearm in 2005. Gun owners and their families are much more likely to kill themselves than are those who don’t own guns.  3 out of 5 people who die from gunshot wounds have taken their own lives.

  • We believe that effectively addressing recent tragedies – including the 20,000 suicides committed each year with guns – requires meaningful gun control and an investment in comprehensive, accessible community-based mental health services.
  • We support universal background checks and database of information solely for safety purposes and gun licensing.  This database should not be accessed for any other purpose than gun control and should have strict privacy protections.
  • We believe that focusing on people who have a demonstrated history of violence rather than using broad, stigmatizing labels is the only effective way in which to curb gun violence. Therefore, we would limit reporting to only those individuals who are “adjudicated”, that is those found by a Court to present a likelihood of serious harm to themselves or others.
  • We believe that universal background checks will not prevent all tragedies; that we also need early intervention for mental illness, first episode strategies, and a more robust array of continuous, community-based mental health services.
  • We support a legal mechanism by which law enforcement officials can seize a gun in the possession of someone determined to be a “dangerous individual”, like those found in Indiana, Connecticut and California law.
  • We believe that gun regulation is an effective method of suicide prevention. Guns are lethal and accessible.
  • We support increased access to substance abuse treatment to assure public safety and decrease suicides.  66% of those with mental illness also have substance abuse problems.  Substance use is often the catalyst for violent behavior.


The gun control debate can only move forward by shifting the focus away from the broad category of anyone with a mental diagnosis to factors and behaviors that directly correlate to violence – whether self-inflicted or toward others.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to address you today on these critically important issues. I look forward to working together to craft the most effective and responsive strategy to curb gun violence and place the Commonwealth at the forefront of progressive and meaningful public safety and mental health policy.