The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) published this piece on its national website about how a public defender can help someone suffering from mental illness upon arrest. The editors of NAMI interviewed Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush for this piece. Bush is the architect of The Jericho Project, one of the most innovative jail diversion programs in the country for people with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse disorders. He is a national expert on jail diversion strategies for people with mental illness.
“Often, the public defender is the only advocate a person with mental illness has in the justice system. The public defender’s job is to represent the interests of the individual charged with an offense, and act as advocate and counselor through the attorney-client relationship. Our job is to protect the due process rights of the individual and to develop and guide a high-quality defense. I think public defenders also have a second role, which is to explore and engage social services, where doing so is helpful to the client.” — Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender