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Pope Francis honors Florida Judge Steve Leifman for mental health work

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Leifman created a mental health court diversion program that will open in six months

Judge Steve Leifman receiving award from Archbishop Thomas Wenski. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Martinez -- Archdiocese of Miami.

Judge Steven Leifman, received the Papal Medal Benemerenti Honor from Archbishop Thomas Wenski during the Archdiocese of Miami 65th anniversary vespers service, Oct. 22, 2023, at St. Mary Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Martinez

Miami-based Judge Steve Leifman received an award from Pope Francis in honor of his work diverting those with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment programs.

Leifman was presented with the award, the Papal Medal Benemerenti, on October 22 by Thomas Wenski, the archbishop of Miami, according to a Facebook post by the charity, Flawless Foundation.

“Receiving the Papal Medal Benemerenti from Pope Francis is extraordinarily humbling. I am extremely grateful for the light this sheds on our most vulnerable who are suffering with serious mental illnesses on our streets and in our jails,” Leifman said in a statement.

The award is given to those who “collaborate in a most noteworthy way with the Archbishop of Miami in the promotion of Gospel or seeking the common good among God’s people,” according to a press release by the Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery.

Leifman has pushed to get the center up and running for 23 years, per the press release. The goal of the program is to treat people for mental health problems who would otherwise cycle through the criminal justice system. It will open in about six months at 2200 NW Seventh Ave in Miami, per the Miami Herald.

As it stands, the Miami-Dade County jail is the largest psychiatric institution in Florida, according to the Miami Foundation for Mental Health, the philanthropic arm of the center.

More than half of the county’s jailed population suffers from mental illness. About 11,000 people living in Miami-Dade with serious mental health problems are booked annually, costing taxpayers $636,000 a day or $232 million a year to confine them, according to the foundation.

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