Jorja Leap has been a member of the faculty of the Department of Social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Luskin School of Public Affairs since 1992. As an anthropologist and recognized expert in gangs, violence, and trauma, she develops, coordinates, and directs community based participatory research that leads to practice and policy recommendations at the local, state and national levels. Dr. Leap applies a multi-disciplinary, community-based approach to her research and developmental efforts and has brought this approach to her work globally in violent and post-war settings all of her career. 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 serves as policy advisor on Gangs and Youth Violence for Los Angeles County and as an expert reviewer on gangs for the National Institute of Justice. She has served as the Clinical Director of the Watts Regional Strategy and 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 longitudinal study at Homeboy Industries, focusing on the life histories of program participants as they encounter the dual challenges of leaving gang life and reentering mainstream society. Continuing to the present, this research has extended to assessing their social enterprise model, concentrating on the Homegirl Café and its training program for women.
Dr. Leap has been deeply involved with The California Endowment Building Healthy Communities Initiative, creating and implementing action evaluation within underserved and marginalized populations whose service providers are funded by TCE. Most recently, Dr. Leap helped as TCE developed their “Sons and Brothers” Project as part of President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative. This work also included case study of “A New Way of Life,” an innovative prison reentry program for women based in South Los Angeles. This work grew into a more sustained effort and Dr. Leap is now working closely with Susan Burton, founder and executive director of ANWOL, helping her to develop the SAFE House nationwide reentry model. Additionally, with funding from The California Wellness Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, GRoW@Annenberg and the Ballmer Foundation, Dr. Leap is the co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute. Along with its co-founder, Karrah Lompa, Dr. Leap works closely with the community-based leaders of Watts, helping to build capacity in this vibrant and resilient community. She is also currently engaged in a multi-year evaluation of an innovative, violence prevention and reduction program in Newark, New Jersey, the Newark Community Street Team (NCST).
In addition to her commitment to community based research and engagement, Dr. Leap offers expert testimony on gangs as well as the impact of violence and trauma in death penalty/capital cases as well as criminal cases across the country. She has testified in state and federal court and continues to work on expanding knowledge and understanding of the multiple factors that may shape human behavior and its relationship to crime.
Since 2011, Dr. Leap has served as the Executive Director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership, which is affiliated with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Violence Prevention Alliance. As part of her action 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 at work on her next book, which will focus on the issues of women, gangs and trauma and will be published by Beacon Press in 2021.
Dr. Leap was honored to receive the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award in 2019 and the UCLA Luskin School Undergraduate Faculty of the Year Award in 2020.
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