Judge Steven Leifman Awarded 2018 Pardes Humanitarian Prize for Leadership in Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jail and Prison

Posted: September 4, 2018

New York (Sept. 5, 2018) — The 2018 Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health is being awarded to Judge Steven Leifman, an associate administrative judge in Miami-Dade County, who has been at the forefront of a public policy movement to reduce the number of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system. The award was announced today by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and will be presented at a ceremony in New York City on October 26. 

Judge Leifman is a national leader in solving the complex and costly problem of people with untreated mental illnesses involved in the criminal justice system. In 2000, he launched a pioneering initiative in Miami-Dade County called the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project, which steers people with mental illnesses, who do not pose significant threats to public safety, away from the criminal justice system and into community-based treatment. He also started a Crisis Intervention Team program in Miami-Dade which teaches law enforcement officials to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, and where to take individuals in crisis rather than arresting them. 

As a result, arrests in the county decreased from 118,000 to 56,000 annually and recidivism dropped by almost 50 percent. The jail population plunged from 7,300 to 4,000 inmates, closing a jail and generating $12 million in annual savings. Crime and burdens on taxpayers have been reduced, and public health, safety, and recovery outcomes have improved. 

Nationwide, according to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, forty percent of people with serious mental illnesses have been arrested one or more times. An estimated 1.8 million people with serious mental illness are booked into jails annually, and on any given day 500,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in jails and prisons. 

Dr. Herbert Pardes, President of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation’s Scientific Council and Executive Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital said, “Judge Leifman has been a passionate leader and unwavering agent of change in the shift away from the devastating and unproductive incarceration of people with mental illness. He has shown us how to use our resources to reverse the costly prison recidivism that strips people of their dignity and threatens public safety.”

Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation added, “Untreated mental illness is a community problem that requires community solutions. Judge Leifman is an extraordinary humanitarian, innovator, and transformative figure whose steadfast advocacy is changing the lives of people with mental illness and their families, and impacting our larger society.” 

Leading the Change Locally and Nationally

Judge Leifman is also creating a Mental Health Diversion Center, a public-private mental health facility in Miami-Dade for individuals with serious mental illnesses who are the most frequent users of services in the criminal justice, mental health, and primary medical care systems. Scheduled to open in 2020, the center will provide a range of mental and primary health care services, as well as assistance with housing, employment training, daily activities and courtroom support. 

Nationally, Judge Leifman bridges the gap between the legal system, healthcare, public administration, and politics. He was an architect of the Stepping-Up Initiative, a national coalition of mental health, substance abuse, government and law enforcement organizations; and a cofounder of the Judges’ and Psychiatrists’ Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between the Council of State Governments and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation designed to improve judicial, community, and systemic responses to people with behavioral health needs who are involved in the justice system.

“This is the one area of civil rights where we’ve lost ground in this country,” said Judge Leifman. “I am extremely humbled and honored by this award which will serve as a vehicle to help educate people about this tragedy. The criminal justice system should not be a place where people come to get care for mental illness,” he adds. “People with mental illness need to live a life of recovery that enables them to contribute to society. We shouldn’t allow people’s lives to be ruined because they have an illness.”

About The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health

The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health was established in 2014, and is awarded annually to recognize individuals or organizations that are making a profound and lasting impact in advancing the understanding of mental health and improving the lives of people with mental illness. It focuses public attention on the burden mental illness places on individuals and society, and the urgent need to expand mental health services globally. Nominations are solicited worldwide. The recipient is chosen by an international distinguished committee of eleven members and receives an honorarium of $150,000. The Prize is named in honor of Herbert Pardes, M.D., a noted psychiatrist, outspoken advocate for the mentally ill, and the award’s first recipient. The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health is sponsored in part by Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. 

For more information: The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health

About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation awards research grants to develop improved treatments, cures, and methods of prevention for mental illness. These illnesses include addiction, ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, and schizophrenia. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $394 million to fund more than 4,700 leading scientists around the world, which has led to over $3.9 billion in additional funding. 100% of every dollar donated for research is invested in our research grants. Our operating expenses are covered by separate foundation grants.

For more information: The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Source: The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Contact: Myrna Manners, Manners Dotson Group, 718-986-7255, mmanners@mannersdotson.com