Miguel Diaz de la Portilla receives American Psychiatric Excellence Award (APEX) for his efforts in reducing the number of people with mental illness who are incarcerated

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the APA Foundation honored the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” in April, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. More than 400 people attended the orange-tie event.

The first-ever American Psychiatric Excellence (APEX) Awards celebrated those who have demonstrated the highest levels of mental health advocacy and who are working to reduce the number of Americans with mental illness in our prisons and jails. During the event, stars from the show participated in a conversation about how the show has opened a window into the experiences and treatment of people with mental illness in America’s prisons and jails.

One of the APEX Award recipients was State Sen. Miguel Díaz de la Portilla who recently introduced legislation addressing mental health services in the criminal justice system, which was passed by both houses of the Florida state legislature in March.

“The award recipients have made great strides in helping to reduce the number of people with mental illness who are incarcerated and by raising awareness of this critical problem,” said APA President Renée Binder, M.D. “Each year, people with serious mental illnesses are arrested or admitted to prisons and jails approximately 2 million times. Once incarcerated, these individuals tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without mental illnesses.”

“I’m honored to be a part of the first-ever APEX awards,” said “Orange is the New Black” star Natasha Lyonne, who plays Nicky Nichols on the show. “The high rate of incarceration of people with mental illness has been a silent crisis for too long. The problems in our prison system are easy to miss, but just like the show has opened a window, the APEX Awards have shown why criminalizing mental illness is wrong and how we can do better.”

“Tonight’s APEX event has been inspiring. It is inspiring to see so many people gathered here to address the plight of people with mental illness who are incarcerated. I truly believe tonight is the start of something positive in addressing this important issue” said actor Dascha Polanco, who plays Dayanara Diaz on the show Orange is the New Black.

“I’m so glad to do my part to raise awareness of the criminalization of people with mental illness,” said Matt McGorry, who plays John Bennett on the show Orange is the New Black. “What is particularly troubling to me is that women are bearing the brunt of this problem. There has been a 10-fold increase in the number of women incarcerated over the past three decades, and about a third of female inmates have a serious mental illness. It’s time we begin to reverse this trend.”

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(AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

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