Mental Health Colorado to Lead The Equitas Project with Generous Commitment from David and Laura Merage Foundation

April 16, 2020 

The Mental Health Advocacy Organization Will Expand its Focus on Criminal Justice

DENVER—Jails and prisons have become the largest mental health facilities in the U.S. It’s a painful intersection that The Equitas Project has worked to disentangle since its founding by the David and Laura Merage Foundation in 2013. As of April 16, 2020, The Equitas Project is now part of Mental Health Colorado, the state’s leading advocate for mental health, under the leadership of President & CEO Vincent Atchity.

Through their foundation, David and Laura Merage launched The Equitas Project as a reflection of their deep commitment to the mission. They transferred ownership of The Equitas Project in recognition of Mental Health Colorado’s leadership in mental health and criminal justice reform and Atchity’s ongoing leadership and dedication to advocacy in this area. The David and Laura Merage Foundation has generously committed to providing continued support through 2022.

“Behaviors associated with poor mental health and addiction are mistaken for, and treated as, willful criminality,” said David Merage. “Rather than supporting people’s health and providing access to quality care and education, we default to law enforcement and incarceration, where health declines further and poor behavior is exacerbated. This decision will allow the work already done by Equitas to continue, now with Mental Health Colorado leading the nation in disentangling this intolerable pain point of mental health and criminal justice.”

Equitas’ focus on criminal justice and mental health fits perfectly with Mental Health Colorado’s mission to create healthier minds across the lifespan. Mental Health Colorado has an ambitious legislative agenda, including policy priorities that aim to provide a strong start for all of Colorado’s children, improve access to quality care, reduce potential harm from drugs and alcohol, decriminalize mental health, and support wellness in aging. All or most of the current projects initiated by Equitas will continue under the leadership of Mental Health Colorado.

“The intersection of mental health and criminal justice is one of the most egregious failures in the mental health landscape,” Atchity said. “This support from David and Laura Merage will enable us to lead the way in making essential course corrections to disentangle mental health and criminal justice in Colorado and across the nation.”

Mental Health Colorado will now assume the key role in coordinating ongoing work by some of the most influential stakeholders in mental health and criminal justice reform in Colorado and the nation. Colorado partners and national advisors include leaders in law enforcement, behavioral health research and practice, corrections, the justice system, advocacy, and policy.

“Both The Equitas Project and Mental Health Colorado have great track records of addressing the many issues involved. This move will strengthen advocacy for improving our system of justice and mental health,” side Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. “I look forward to working with Mental Health Colorado on this essential effort.

The work of Equitas will continue, including coordinating with prosecutor offices nationally to prevent incarceration of people who have unmet mental health needs. Another project that will continue, now under the auspice of Mental Health Colorado, is the Model Law Writing Work Group, which is a select group of national experts redefining civil commitment law to improve the ability to stabilize and provide care for people experiencing mental health crises.

“I’m encouraged to see the work of Equitas continue under the leadership of Dr. Atchity and Mental Health Colorado,” said Doug Wilson, Chief of the Aurora Public Defender’s Office and Equitas National Advisory Board Member. “I look forward to beginning a true advocacy partnership with Mental Health Colorado as we work together to redirect consumers with health needs away from the criminal justice system.”

About Mental Health Colorado:

Mental Health Colorado is the state’s leading advocate in promoting mental wellness, ending shame and discrimination, and ensuring equitable access to mental health and substance use care. Mental Health Colorado is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and an affiliate of Mental Health America.

About The Equitas Project:

The Equitas Project, a former initiative of the David and Laura Merage Foundation, has been a leader in the national movement to disentangle mental health and criminal justice, championing laws, policies, and practices that prioritize promoting access to mental health over punishment and confinement.

About the David and Laura Merage Foundation:

The David & Laura Merage Foundation’s purpose is to tackle complex societal problems and accelerate lasting solutions by investing in breakthrough innovations, launching new organizations, and mobilizing movements to reform laws. They have a commitment to early childhood education, mental health equality, contemporary art, Israel prosperity, and Jewish life. 


Media Contact:
Aubree Hughes
Communications Director