Judge Steven Leifman Receives Pardes Humanitarian Prize for Helping Thousands Towards Mental Health Instead of Incarceration

“Judge Leifman has accomplished something amazing. Thanks to Judge Leifman’s efforts people don’t go to jail but instead receive treatment so they can move forward with their lives in a healthier way.”

–Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, President and CEO, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation


In October, 2018, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the nation’s largest non-governmental funder of cutting-edge mental health research, honored Judge Leifman with The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health for his work to help thousands of people access mental health instead of incarceration.

The international prize, bestowed annually at the International Awards Dinner in New York City, recognizes an individual or organization whose extraordinary contribution has made a profound and lasting impact by improving the lives of people suffering from mental illness, and by advancing the understanding of mental health.

The Prize focuses public attention on the burden of mental illness on individuals and on society, and the urgent need to expand and enhance mental health services globally. Judge Leifman was chosen to receive the Pardes Prize by a distinguished international Selection Committee from nominations solicited worldwide.

When Judge Steven Leifman had first begun his career as a judge, he noticed a trend: individuals experiencing active symptoms of mental illness were being charged with crimes instead of receiving treatment options, often despite their family members’ engagement to get them help. The defendants’ subsequent incarceration would create a cycle of imprisonment and further decompensation. Rather than simply accepting this broken state of affairs, Judge Leifman began a campaign to create interventions in order to redirect those with mental health concerns into programs known to foster healthful outcomes, instead of pushing them into jails and prisons.

The programs the judge created dramatically reduced inmate populations in the Miami-Dade jail, lowered recidivism rates, and resulted in notable spending reductions at county and state levels. Moreover, at an incalculable value, Leifman’s efforts have allowed thousands of people to access needed health interventions and redirect course of their lives. Judge Leifman has since expanded his efforts to help change the course of health and justice systems nationally.

Judge Steven Leifman is a shining star in a constellation of influential cross-sector leaders around the country, whose work focuses on disentangling mental health and criminal justice. This constellation is represented in the Equitas Project National Advisory Board, whose members include BBR Foundation’s Jeffrey Borenstein and other powerful advocates and experts in policy, law, education, public safety, the justice system, corrections, reentry, and health care. More about Judge Steven Leifman and the rest of our National Advisors can be found on the Equitas Project website.

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