Friday, November 20, 2015

Judge Awarded for Work on Decriminalization of People With Mental Illness

In a ceremony yesterday evening at the United States Supreme Court, Florida Judge Steven Leifman, J.D., was honored with the 2015 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from the National Center for State Courts for his work on behalf of people with mental illness in the Miami-Dade (Fla.) County criminal justice system.

Leifman, who also serves on the board of directors of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, has both advocated for and implemented programs to divert from county jails into treatment and community support people with mental illness who do not pose a risk to public safety.

“It is important to recognize a larger American problem: the rising presence of people with mental illness in our jails and prisons even as the general prison populations declines,” said Leifman. The intersection of the criminal justice and mental health systems is “fragmented, underresourced, and outdated.”

Solving this problem cannot be accomplished by one person, one level of government, or one party, he said. “We are used to an adversarial criminal justice system, but we need to reach across boundaries.”

APA President RenĂ©e Binder, M.D., who attended the ceremony, noted that the award to Dr. Leifman highlights the national recognition by the judicial system of the inappropriate criminalization of persons with mental illness. 

"Chief Justice John Roberts listened carefully while Dr. Leifman gave an elegant and passionate speech of his experience as a sitting judge and seeing defendants with obvious mental illness and confusion who had committed minor offenses and were being sent to jail inappropriately," she said. "APA is working collaboratively with Judge Leifman and with other stakeholders to highlight this problem and address solutions."

For more in Psychiatric News about Judge Leifman’s work in Miami, see “Program Prepares Defendants for Return to the Community” and “Defendants With Mental Illness Diverted to Social Security System.”

(Image: Rick Reinhard)


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