Jorja Leap

Jorja Leap has been an Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Luskin School of Public Affairs since 1992. As a social work professional and recognized expert in gangs, violence, and trauma, she has worked both nationally and internationally in violent and post-war settings throughout her career. Dr. Leap applies a multi-disciplinary, community-based approach to her research and developmental efforts. Her current work focuses on gangs and community justice in multi-cultural settings, criminal justice and prison reform, and the dilemmas faced by individuals reentering society after incarceration, including women, a group often overlooked.

Dr. Leap has served as policy advisor on Gangs and Youth Violence for Los Angeles County, as an expert reviewer on gangs for the National Institute of Justice, and as the Clinical Director of the Watts Regional Strategy for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office. In addition, she has served as the qualitative research director for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) Program.  She has also been appointed to the State of California, Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), Standing Committee on Gang Issues. Drawing upon her research, Dr. Leap has provided commentary on numerous television, radio and newspaper stories about gangs. In 2009, Dr. Leap began a five-year longitudinal study of Homeboy Industries, focusing on the life histories of program participants as they encounter the dual challenges of leaving gang life and reentering mainstream society. This work has extended to assessing their social enterprise model, concentrating on the Homegirl Café and its training program for women. Along with this work, she offers expert testimony on the impact of violence and trauma in death penalty and capital cases.

Dr. Leap has been deeply involved in creating and implementing action research and evaluation within underserved and marginalized populations.  As part of this, her work has centered on research for “A New Way of Life,” an innovative prison reentry program for women based in South Los Angeles as well as their National Safe Housing Network.   She is also currently engaged in the second part of a longitudinal study of the LAPD Community Safety Partnership, an effort led by civil rights attorney Constance Rice, focused on transforming law enforcement, particularly in the wake of the national protests focused on racial justice. Additionally, in 2015, Dr. Leap co-founded the UCLA Watts Leadership Institute, a ten-year initiative focused on building the indigenous leaders of the Watts community. More recently, she began working as the Lead Researcher on the White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative, an effort underway in 17jurisdictions across the United States.  

Since 2011, Dr. Leap has served as the Executive Director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership, which is affiliated with the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) Violence Prevention Alliance. She is also currently the Director of Research and Evaluation for the Community Based Public Safety Collective.  As part of her community based participatory research efforts, Dr. Leap has authored numerous reports, articles, and book chapters as well as the book, Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Love, Drugs and Redemption published by Beacon Press in 2012, with all proceeds going to Homeboy Industries and most recently the book: Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Most Troubled Communities published by Beacon Press in June 2015, with all proceeds going to Project Fatherhood. She is currently at work on her next book, Entry Lessons: Women Fighting for Their Place, Their Children and Coming Home:  Women, Prison Reentry and Their Futures After Incarceration to be published by Beacon Press in 2022, with all proceeds going to A New Way of Life Reentry Project.  

In 2017, Los Angeles Magazine named Dr. Leap one of the 50 most influential women in Los Angeles.  In 2019, Dr. Leap was honored to be the recipient of the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award.

Learn more about Dr. Leap’s work.


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