The Sozosei Foundation, a charitable foundation established by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., recently convened its inaugural summit on decriminalizing mental illness. During the three-day event in December 2020, Sozosei brought together more than 200 multi-disciplinary stakeholders—including advocates, people with lived experience, policy makers, academics, philanthropic leaders, and other experts on mental health and criminal justice—to share knowledge and perspectives focused on creating a future where mental illness is not treated as a crime in the United States.
"The criminalization of mental illnesses in the United States is a problem with far-reaching implications that demands urgent and systemic solutions," said Dr. William H. Carson, Chair of the Board of the Sozosei Foundation. "Discrimination against those with mental illness, coupled with the stigmatization of the practice of psychiatry—which discourages treatment-seeking efforts—directly influence the negative systemic outcomes for people with mental illness. I’m proud of the role the Sozosei Foundation can play in supporting collaboration among stakeholders to help address these critical issues."
Mental illness is criminalized in the United States from entry into the justice system to incarceration and following release. Forty-four percent of people in jail have a history of a mental illness, and nearly one in four is in a state of serious psychological distress at the time of their incarceration.1 In an outcome study, 64% of inmates with mental illness released from prison were rearrested within 18 months, and 48% were hospitalized within the same period.2
"Our inaugural summit demonstrated the incredible value of providing a forum for dedicated experts to come together and share their perspectives and expertise on the criminalization of mental illness," said Melissa Beck, Executive Director of the Sozosei Foundation. "Together, we further affirmed that for the health of individuals and communities, we must change the way people with mental illness are treated in our country. We look forward to advancing the ideas that were uncovered at the summit."
Summit participants universally agreed on the need for better access to integrated healthcare where evidence-based treatment for mental illness is on par with other forms of illnesses. They also aligned on five priority mandates as critical first steps toward the goal of decriminalizing mental illness in the U.S. criminal justice system:
Data must inform all policy reform and direct service design
Brain health should be considered as part of overall health and should not be siloed from other preventive or acute healthcare
Discrimination against people with mental illnesses and the stigmatization of the practice of psychiatry must end
Systemic racism is pervasive and must be addressed to equitable access to care outside of the criminal justice system
Those with lived experience must be included in the movement to decriminalize mental illness
Recordings of the summit sessions will be available in January 2021 on the Sozosei Foundation website, https://www.sozoseifoundation.org/.
ABOUT THE SOZOSEI FOUNDATION
The Sozosei Foundation is a U.S.-based, private charitable foundation established by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. As its inaugural program area, Sozosei will address the over-incarceration of people with mental illness. The Foundation will announce other health-related program areas in the future. Sozosei will also lead corporate social responsibility activities focused on disaster relief and local philanthropy, centered on equity and sustainability.
2. Lovell D, Gagliardi GJ, Peterson PD. Recidivism and use of services among persons with mental illness after release from prison. Psychiatr Serv. 2002;53(10):1290-1296.
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Melissa Beck, Executive Director Sozosei Foundation