Laura Abrams

Professor Abrams’ scholarship focuses on improving the well-being of youth and adults with histories of incarceration. Her ethnographic studies have examined youths’ experiences of criminality, risk, and institutions seeking to reshape their identities. These themes are considered in her first book Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C (Rutgers University Press, 2013). Her second book Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth (Rutgers University Press, 2017), examines how formerly incarcerated young men and women navigate reentry and the transition to adulthood in the context of urban Los Angeles. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and is the editor of two edited volumes: The Voluntary Sector in Prisons (Palgrave, 2016); and The International Handbook of Youth Imprisonment (Palgrave, 2021). She also partnered with Professor Laura Wray-Lake to produce a recent SCRD monograph entitled Pathways to Civic Engagement Among Urban Youth of Color.


Dr. Abrams is currently involved in several studies concerning the youth and adult criminal legal systems and reentry, locally and globally. Her study of youth justice models in four countries examined how issues of age, maturity, and culpability are constructed in law and practice. A mixed methods study of very young offenders, incarceration, health, and public policy led to a state bill in California barring juvenile justice jurisdiction in for youth under age 12; a model that is spreading nationally. Dr. Abrams is currently fielding a study on reentry, health, and social networks among young people aged 18-25 from Los Angeles County jails and along with PI Dr. Elizabeth Barnert, is the co-director of the UCLA Life Course Intervention Research Network – Youth Justice Node. She is also working with a national team to examine life after “juvenile life without parole” in the United States.


In the community, Dr. Abrams has served as an expert witness for death row appeals and in cases involving minors fighting their fitness to be tried as adults. She has provided public and congressional testimony regarding treatment in the juvenile justice system, the reentry needs of youth, and effective practices for the reintegration of reentry youth into the community.


Dr. Abrams’ work and opinions have been cited in a range of news media including the Washington Post, the New York Times and NPR, among others. She has received numerous awards for her scholarship, including the SSWR best scholarly book award (2020) and the Frank R. Bruel prize for the best published article in Social Service Review (2013). In 2020 Dr. Abrams was inducted as a member of the American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare. In 2022, she received the inaugural UCLA Public Impact award and was inducted into the UCLA Faculty Mentoring Honor Society .


Professor Abrams teaches the following courses: SW 211B: Human Behavior and the Social Environment II; SW 229: The Craft of Social Welfare Scholarship; SW249: Qualitative Methods; and SW 290T: Juvenile Justice Policy.


You can follow Dr. Abrams on Twitter or the Facebook page for the Social Welfare Chair


Recent News Releases and Media Interviews:

Vera Institute of Justice: Everyday Desistance

Growing Pains of Formerly Incarcerated Youth 

GPS Rules Send California Juveniles Into a Jail Cycle

Jailed Indiana Teens Reach a Crossroads

MPR News On Abuse in a Private Juvenile Facility

Seeking Justice for Juveniles

More Protections for Juvenile Offenders are Before California Legislators

Take Two: Is Jail for Juveniles Effective in Preventing Future Crime?

Juvenile Arrests Plunged Last Year, why?

Expanding rehabilitation Programs under Federal Decree- NPR

The California Report: NPR

Jorja Leap

Jorja Leap has been a member of the Social Welfare Department faculty at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs since 1992 and serves as the Executive Director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership. As a social worker/anthropologist and recognized expert in gangs, violence, and systems change, she develops, coordinates and directs real-life scholarly efforts that involve research, evaluation and policy recommendations at the local, state and national level. Dr. Leap has worked nationally as well as globally in post-war environments and settings beset by violence throughout her career, applying a multi-disciplinary, community-based approach to her research and capacity building 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 worked 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. Through work she has engaged at the national level, she is now the Evaluation and Research Director for the Community Based Public Safety Collective.

Alongside these efforts, she has served as an expert witness in local, state ,and federal judicial proceedings, focusing on gangs, violence, and the relationships between trauma and criminalized behaviors. Additionally, Dr. Leap has authored a series of reports on gang membership, dynamics, and desistance in death penalty sentencing and plea mitigation procedures, appeals, habeas corpus hearings, and clemency proceedings.  Dr. Leap works to educate the court in understanding the nuances of gang activity and the trauma that underlies so much of its commission.  She continues to provide commentary on numerous television, radio and newspaper stories about gangs.

Currently, Dr. Leap is the lead researcher for the White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative. Additionally, she is engaged in a five year, longitudinal evaluation of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang reentry program in the world, integrating UCLA undergraduate and graduate students in this ground-breaking research. She is the co-founder of the UCLA Watts Leadership Institute, working closely with the community-based leaders of Watts as well as its nonprofit network to build capacity and ensure equity in the vibrant community she is honored to be part of.  Dr. Leap has authored numerous reports, chapters, and books, including Jumped In: What Gangs taught me about Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption with all proceeds going to Homeboy Industries and Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in one of America’s Toughest Communities with all the proceeds going to Project FatherhoodHer latest book Entry Lessons: The Stories of Women Fighting for their Place, their Children and their Futures after Incarceration was published in 2022, with all proceeds going to Susan Burton and the A New Way of Life Reentry Program.    


Learn more about Dr. Leap’s work.


Downloads and other links:


Todd Franke

Trained in social work and educational psychology, Professor Franke seeks to achieve a better understanding of, and improve the responsiveness of service systems in the fields of social services, education and health. Using cognitive theory to better define policy issues related to the integration of these two important fields, Dr. Franke’s research has focused in part on the impact of disability and chronic illness on school-age children. He is currently conducting a study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on the use of personal assistance services for children with disabilities. In addition, Dr. Franke studies how adolescents solve social problems; urban mobility and its impact on children’s education and social development; and how to successfully integrate health and social services in school settings.

Dr. Franke is active in several local and regional efforts to restructure social services in the schools, helping to conceptualize planning and implementation and the design of evaluation measures in Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second-largest school district. He also serves as a consultant to local school districts for the preparation of funding proposals for Healthy Start, a state program to establish linkages between community social service agencies and schools. HIs primary work occurs at the intersection of youth violence (child welfare and gang involved youth) and education. In these areas he designs and undertakes evaluative research and has obtained over $9 million in research funding over the past 7 years. He is currently the Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.

Dr. Franke has been involved with agencies that serve thousands of families representing unique geographic and cultural communities in California, particularly southern California counties. He recently prepared a report for the Los Angeles City Council which examines the measurement issues involved in assessing the success of gang-related and youth development prevention and intervention programs in the city. The link between involvement in the child welfare system and gang involvement is well documented. Dr. Franke is currently the Co-PI of the Best Start LA Initiative which aims to shape, strengthen and support five Los Angeles communities by building resources and providing access to activities that improve the well-being, development and care experienced by pregnant women, parents of newborns and children age 3 and under.

Dr. Franke was also the Principal Investigator for the First 5 LA-funded Partnership for Families Initiative, which is a secondary prevention initiative that is designed to prevent child maltreatment in vulnerable families. Dr. Franke has been the PI for the Small County Initiative, which was designed to systematically examine California’s efforts to build and enhance child abuse and neglect prevention efforts in 11 rural counties in northern California. Additionally, he has numerous years of experience in conducting cross-sectional and longitudinal research in the fields of education, child welfare and adolescent violence.