Vera’s Substance Use and Mental Health Program launched this project in January 2013 to study the role of indigent defense, also known as public defense, for defendants with mental health disorders. This work aims to describe the needs and priorities of clients with mental health disorders as well as the challenges faced by their attorneys when representing their interests.

The study’s findings can be used to inform the creation of practices and guidelines aimed at improving representation for clients with mental health disorders. This in turn aims to make the most efficient use of limited resources.

Project Objectives

  • To understand how defenders understand and represent their clients’ legal and extra legal needs, such as advocating for access treatment-based alternatives to incarceration.

  • To investigate whether and how clients’ want their mental health to be taken into account during their criminal case.

  • To improve outcomes for people with mental health disorders involved in the criminal justice system.

Key Fact

14.5% of men and 31% of women in jails have a serious mental illness, compared to 5% of the general population.