(Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Our Research Centers An introduction to the stories in this edition

Our goal was to create a definitive roundup of UCLA Luskin research centers. Over several months, more than two dozen professors, staff, students and alumni were interviewed, producing 160 pages of transcripts totaling 69,774 words. Did we capture every connection, permutation or interaction? No way. For one, we simply ran out of space. What follows are excerpts from the interviews. Also note that our research centers web page now has a mention of every — we think — research entity with a UCLA Luskin connection. Here are a few facts and notes about the project:

  • Funds that flow into the Luskin School are increasingly tied to a research center, and those numbers have risen as the School has grown in recent years. Research centers received 80% of all contract and grant funding at UCLA Luskin in the last fiscal year, totaling $18.5 million. With four months of 2021-22 to go, the research center tally stood at 82.9% of all awards and $17.9 million.
  • Most full-time faculty, and many part-timers, are associated with at least one research center. The financial benefit is a factor, but interviewees mostly spoke about collaboration and impact.
  • Research units play an integral role in advancing UCLA Luskin’s mission, particularly its community service goals. (Some of the many research-oriented advocacy success stories are told in this edition.)
  • There are a lot of them. In 2009, the Luskin Center for Innovation became the fourth research center at UCLA Luskin. Today, we show 12 research centers on the homepage and list more than a dozen more on the web page mentioned earlier. A couple of non-Luskin-School-based examples are in this issue, but faculty also hold leadership positions or fill scholarly roles in many other research centers housed within another UCLA school, hosted by an off-campus partner or existing as part of a national research consortium or an ad hoc project involving scholars from other universities.
  • Some research centers are — potential funder alert — still in the startup phase; others are firmly established but ready to grow. And two research centers have been bastions of the UCLA Luskin educational experience for decades. These highly respected and influential centers are profiled in chapter 1. 
  • The word center is often used in this project as an umbrella term even though individual entities are actually an institute, initiative, hub or lab. No disrespect is intended. Is there any official difference? We asked UCLA’s vice chancellor for research, Roger Wakamoto: “We do not discriminate a center from an institute or any other term. The names are
    used interchangeably.”
  • The main story in this issue unfolds in oral history form. Some minor rephrasing was needed for clarity’s sake, and trims were made. But the people associated with UCLA Luskin research centers tell their stories primarily in their own words

New Book by Leap Portrays the Struggles of Women After Incarceration

A new book by Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap portrays the daily struggles of women returning to life after incarceration and proposes concrete solutions to the problems they face. “Entry Lessons: The Stories of Women Fighting for Their Place, Their Children, and Their Futures After Incarceration,” published by Beacon Press, draws on oral histories, interviews, embedded observation and extensive research conducted by Leap, an anthropologist who specializes in criminal justice and prison reform. At the end of 2019, women comprised the fastest-growing population within the U.S. criminal justice system, yet the impact of their journey — both on their own lives and on the lives of their children and families — is only beginning to be documented, Leap writes. “Entry Lessons” explores the traumas girls and women suffer, followed by the particular challenges they face in the criminal justice system, in incarceration and throughout their reentry into society. Leap includes several future-facing chapters that call for structural change through the development of meaningful programs and policies that end the cycles of abuse and trauma in the lives of women. In May, some of the women whose stories were shared in “Entry Lessons” appeared with Leap at a reception and book-signing at the UCLA Fowler Museum Courtyard, hosed by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Beacon Press.

View more photos from the book reception on Flickr.


 

Heed the Data Behind Criminal Justice Measures, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about decisions awaiting the city’s next top prosecutor after the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin. During his time in office, Boudin changed policies relating to cash bail, charging minors as adults and California’s “three strikes” law, among other reforms. Leap, an expert on gangs, criminal justice and prison reform, pointed to research on the effectiveness of different approaches to deterring crime. For example, there is little research to back up the claim that cash bail provides an incentive for people to return to court so they don’t forfeit what they paid. In addition, the use of gang enhancements, which can add time to defendants’ sentences if they are proven to have been motivated by gang ties, are ineffective and do nothing to address the causes of crime, she said. “We have no accountability for how this is done — no research studies, no nothing,” Leap said.

Current Solutions to Crime Are Not Working, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit that hires formerly incarcerated individuals to address street-level issues rooted in addiction, mental illness and homelessness. The nonprofit employs 1,100 people in five cities across the United States, many of them people of color and individuals who have previously experienced homelessness. The organization has faced challenges, including two workers shot on the job and criticism that its employees do not have the appropriate licenses to police public spaces. However, Leap said she is confident that Urban Alchemy will overcome these obstacles. “Crime has gone up in America, the same old solutions are not working, so we’re going to see more growth in these areas … and there are going to be growing pains,” Leap said. “Whether you are an abolitionist or a police cheerleader, we all agree what’s been done in the past is not working.”


Culture of Probation Must Change, Leap Says

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap weighed in on Los Angeles County’s proposed plan to move juvenile offenders to a probation camp in a remote area of Malibu. The proposal has prompted a larger debate about what the county’s youth justice system should look like. Five years ago, Leap co-authored a brief endorsing a therapeutic approach to juvenile rehabilitation in response to the opening of Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention facility that was envisioned as a more humane approach to juvenile justice, with smaller dorms instead of the military-style barracks found at other probation halls. Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the resistance from some officials at the Probation Department who have stalled progress with their unwillingness to let go of the “get tough” approach of the past. “The real problem is that that promise of trauma-informed care … has not been completely fulfilled,” said Leap. “The culture of Probation must be changed.”


Leap on Emotional and Fiscal Expenses of Female Incarceration

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured as a guest speaker on KCRW’s “Scheer Intelligence” podcast discussing the repercussions of the incarceration of women. “We tend to think about [people who are incarcerated] as men, [but] women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated individuals in the United States,” Leap said. Eighty percent of incarcerated women in the United States have children, so incarceration directly leads to the destruction of families, she said. Leap pointed out that “46% of incarcerated women are in jail because they can’t post bail — not because they have been found guilty, but because they are poor.” Once women are released from prison, they face a series of obstacles with virtually no support. “The need is great, but the services are limited,” Leap said. “In America, we’re in love with incarceration, and what we should be in love with are the families and the children of the people who need our help, understanding and support.”


UCLA Luskin Team Tapped to Evaluate National Violence Intervention Initiative  Researchers will analyze implementation of a White House program to equip community leaders and nonprofits to combat gun violence

By Mary Braswell

Two researchers from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have received $250,000 in funding to conduct an evaluation of a White House initiative designed to bolster the capacity of grassroots organizations to combat violence in their communities.

Jorja Leap ’78, MSW ’80, PhD anthropology ’88 and Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, who lead the Social Justice Research Partnership based at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, will conduct an in-depth evaluation to document implementation of the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC), launched by the Biden-Harris administration in July 2021.

The 18-month effort aims to equip community leaders and nonprofit organizations in 16 jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, with increased funding, training and technical assistance to reduce gun crime and increase public safety.

The collaborative brings together White House officials, mayors, law enforcement, experts in community violence intervention and philanthropic institutions to share ideas, spur innovation, and scale and strengthen the infrastructure that supports community-led efforts to increase public safety.

Hyphen, the anchor organization managing the public-philanthropic collaboration, selected Leap and Lompa to document CVIC’s activities, including the identification of partner organizations in each jurisdiction, the provision of training and technical support, and the development of a nationwide community violence intervention network. Their research will establish the strategies that have proven most successful over time and recommend approaches for sharing them nationwide.

Over the next year, Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare, and Lompa will engage in community-based participatory research, including several visits to all 16 jurisdictions. Driven by on-the-ground, ethnographic research, this rigorous effort will produce a documentary narrative as well as recommendations that will guide the initiative’s ongoing efforts. UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students will be actively involved in the evaluation effort.

“Our engagement in this initiative reflects how deeply CVIC understands the need for rigorous evaluation from Day One of their efforts,” Leap said. “Consistent with the values of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, we are committed to delivering participatory research that actively involves community members in the research process. They are partners, not just participants.”

A White House statement in February described the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative as one element in a broad strategy to address the nationwide spike in gun crime since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collaborative was launched to “help communities assess their existing public safety ecosystem, identify gaps and build the capacity to expand programming that saves lives,” the statement said.

Racial justice, equity and community leadership are central to the initiative, according to the Hyphen team anchoring the program.

“The Community Violence Intervention Collaborative presents an unprecedented opportunity to establish a learning network that dramatically improves our country’s response to violence and reimagines and enhances public safety, ” according to Aqeela Sherrills, the initiative’s collaborative advisor.

The 16 jurisdictions in the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative were selected for their high rates of crime but also their strong support from civic and philanthropic leaders. In addition to Los Angeles, they include Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; Baton Rouge, Louisiana.; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami-Dade, Florida.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rapid City, South Dakota; King County, Washington; St. Louis, Missouri; and Washington, D.C.

Leap, a recognized expert in gangs, violence and systems change, develops and coordinates community-based efforts that involve research, evaluation and policy recommendations at the local, state and national level. Lompa has extensive knowledge of nonprofit organizations and capacity building developed over her career in the nonprofit sector, including having served as executive director of a nonprofit organization.

Leap and Lompa are also co-founders of the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative to provide grassroots leaders and nonprofits with the training, technical assistance and resources needed to build their infrastructure and knowledge to help advance positive community change. In a meaningful coincidence, the Watts Leadership Institute represents a local version of what CVIC strives to achieve nationally.

Leap Comments on Ebb and Flow of Crime

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in a Wrap article about the rise of violent crime in Los Angeles. Many homeowners in wealthy areas are investing in private security to protect their homes and families, especially after well-publicized home invasion robberies and the recent homicide of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant in Beverly Hills. However, Leap noted that violent crime strikes poorer neighborhoods more than affluent ones. “For every one Jacqueline Avant, there are probably 50 to 100 [homicides] in poor areas,” Leap said. Homicides in Los Angeles were the highest last year since 2006, but Leap noted that they are still much lower than in the mid-1980s and ’90s. She explained that the ongoing pandemic and resulting uncertainty, the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and subsequent civil unrest, plus the easy availability of guns have all contributed to people feeling more anxious, which leads to higher crime rates.


Leap Weighs In on COVID, Crime in Watts

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the rise in homicides during the pandemic and the way that it has affected neighborhoods like Watts in South Los Angeles. Of the 22 men and women killed in Watts in the first 11 months of 2021, 64% of the victims were Black. “Young Black men and families are the hardest hit by the pandemic,” Leap said. “If you’re starving and you feel out of control, you’re more likely to be the victim or the perpetrator of violence.” She pointed out that the COVID case rate in Watts is nearly 30% higher than the overall rate for Los Angeles, and 117 residents have died. After spending over 40 years working in Watts, Leap hopes to see more economic investment to support the community. “We have plenty of investment in social programs in Watts,” Leap said. “Where is the economic structure to give people jobs?”


Growing Influence L.A.'s new curb on plastic utensils is one example of how UCLA Luskin research impacts policy

By Mary Braswell

Los Angeles County is restricting use of the plastic tableware that clogs our landfills and waterways.

The L.A. City Council launched a coordinated effort to deter harassment on the city’s streets and transit systems.

And the LAPD created a new bureau to elevate the community’s voice in places where law enforcement has a rocky history.

Each of these actions, taken with the intention of improving the lives of Angelenos, relied on research produced by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. And they are just three recent examples that underscore the School’s growing influence as it turns incisive scholarship into real policies aimed at building a more just and equitable world.

This calling is not new. The work done by UCLA Luskin’s public policy, social welfare and urban planning programs and more than a dozen affiliated centers and institutes has long been a source of data-driven guidance for decision-makers in the public and private sectors. The School’s impact has been felt across the region, nation and world.

“We must always ask ourselves, ‘What’s the benefit of this work?’’’ said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, the School’s associate dean of academic affairs. “Our research is meant to be applied, not just read by other academics, or what, really, is the use?”

CHALLENGING THE THROWAWAY CULTURE

L.A. County had identified a problem. In search of solutions, it looked to the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. 

The problem was the harmful environmental impact of disposable forks, knives, spoons and other plasticware, used once then tossed in the trash by 10 million county residents. 

The county had pledged to phase out these single-use plastics, and needed a strong base of knowledge to craft an effective ordinance. The Center for Innovation was contracted to study what the products are made of, how they impact the environment and economy, why they cannot be easily recycled, what alternatives are available, and more.

Momentum grew in January 2020, when the Center for Innovation delivered a high-profile report identifying prime targets for policy action. Then, COVID-19 struck.

“The county had decided that it really wanted to take firm action,” said Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, a Center for Innovation project manager who has worked on each phase of the plastics study.

“But the pandemic created a really significant resource crunch for the county, as it did for many municipal governments, and understandably they prioritized public health and services.”

In 2021, the legislative effort to curb plastic waste got back on track. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate single-use plastics in county-run facilities, though it stopped short of broadening the new rules to restaurants still affected by the pandemic. Other local governments also stepped up, including the L.A. City Council, which unanimously voted to make disposable foodware at restaurants available only if requested by customers.

“Only upon request” rules are relatively simple to implement, Coffee said. “Those sorts of policies don’t require the business to retool work areas or install new equipment or secure new types of products. They can take effect almost immediately.”

Crafting longer-term strategies is more complex. One significant reason is that alternatives to plastic — paper, bamboo and bioplastic, for example — have hidden carbon footprints of their own. 

“Replacing a plastic item with a non-plastic version that is still disposable and single-use is not always the better move,” Coffee said, saying the real game-changer comes “the moment you stop throwing something away right after you’re done with it.”

“That’s why we can so confidently say that reusable products are the way to go, wherever possible, in any context. It’s really important to get this right.”

Coffee’s research into the most effective ways to tackle plastic waste began during an internship with the L.A. County Chief Sustainability Office. He later joined the Center for Innovation staff, which recently produced an addendum to the county report. This time, the focus was on the impacts of the COVID-19 era on the plastic waste stream.

“Long story short, it’s not good. You have a massive, massive uptick in medical waste,” including packaging for sterile products as well as disposable masks that degrade into harmful microplastics, he said. Consumer behavior has also shifted during the pandemic, with more goods, groceries and take-out food encased in plastic.

“It just adds to the need for prompt action. And it underscores the importance for institutions like the Luskin Center to have these strong relationships with both municipal and state-level government institutions,” Coffee said. “They know they can reach out to us to stay apprised of things that are dynamically changing.”

SAFEGUARDING L.A.S PUBLIC SPACES

When members of the L.A. City Council decided it was time to deal head-on with an increase in harassment on the streets of Los Angeles, they knew where to turn.

Loukaitou-Sideris, a distinguished professor of urban planning as well as the Luskin School’s associate dean, had shared her extensive research into harassing behavior many times, in high-level government and academic settings and through a book published
in 2020.

She had also lived it.

As a young university student in Athens, Greece, Loukaitou-Sideris chose to walk half an hour to attend class rather than risk being groped on the bus — an experience familiar to women around the world and across generations.

“It is, sadly, a global phenomenon,” she said. “And I am sorry to say, it is very prominent in Los Angeles.”

Loukaitou-Sideris’ statement is backed up by numbers, collected through an extensive survey of transit riders from local campuses. The survey asked 400 students from UCLA, 650 from Cal State Los Angeles and 250 from Cal State Northridge whether they had experienced any of 16 types of harassment in the previous three years in a public transit environment. Of the women who responded, more than 80% said yes.

“These are very, very high numbers,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, whose research was published by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA.

In the fall of 2020, her work came to the attention of a legislative deputy in the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino. The aide had personally witnessed street harassment and reached out to Loukaitou-Sideris for help in crafting a motion urging city leaders to act.

“I was more than happy to be approached by Councilman Buscaino’s office, and I was even more thrilled that this motion first passed the committee unanimously and then the City Council,” she said. 

The motion, adopted in March 2021, mobilized several city departments to work together to respond to street harassment, which disproportionately affects not just women but people of color, people with disabilities, those in the LGBTQ community, older adults and adolescents. 

“As the second most populous city in the nation,” the motion stated, “the City of Los Angeles has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable residents from harassment in public spaces.”

In addition to measuring the scope of the problem, Loukaitou-Sideris’ study recommended strategies for increasing safety in public spaces. Smart urban design, such as providing adequate lighting, is critical. New technologies can provide real-time arrival information at transit stops, as well as apps and hotlines that make it easier to report harassment. Educational campaigns can embolden bystanders to intervene to protect one another.

Loukaitou-Sideris stressed that restoring confidence in the safety of public spaces is likely to encourage the use of transit — key to the sustainability goals of many urban centers.

 

VISION FOR COMMUNITY-ENGAGED POLICING

Researchers do acknowledge one frustrating reality: Compelling evidence does not always lead to decisive action. 

“Oftentimes, research is exploited as a way to avoid doing something,” said Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and an expert on criminal justice and community empowerment.

“To be blunt, that is what happens with a lot of research and evaluation. It’s carefully designed, it’s rigorously carried out, everybody says, ‘Thank you very much,’ and it goes onto a shelf, usually with several other reports.”

So Leap was stunned and heartened when the Los Angeles Police Department created a new bureau for community-engaged policing, led by a person of color who reports directly to the police chief — recommendations her team had put forward in a report commissioned by outside interests.

Leap and her colleagues spent more than a year studying the effectiveness of the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership (CSP), a strategy instituted years earlier to build trust between police and residents of the city’s most troubled public housing developments. 

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice was the driving force behind the evaluation. For decades, Rice had sparred with the LAPD before deciding to join forces with the department to work for change. 

It was she who steered the vision for community policing, and who brought in Leap to guide the way with authentic academic research. The UCLA team was given a budget, access to CSP sites, and assurances of independence from both Rice and the LAPD.

“We were the rigorous scientific vessel for the thoughts and feelings and beliefs and experiences of the residents,” Leap said.

Working with Social Welfare Professor Todd Franke and a team of field researchers and analysts from across UCLA, Leap launched a study that involved 425 hours of observation, 110 interviews, 28 focus groups, and nearly 800 surveys to capture the views of police officers and residents in Watts and Boyle Heights.

“It is not a lovely report,” Leap said. “Many of the residents had a horrendous history with police.” 

Distrust of police rightfully persists, but most survey respondents reported feeling decidedly safer under the CSP program, which assigned specially trained officers to work side-by-side with residents to understand the community’s assets as well as its dangers.

The final report endorsed the Community Safety Partnership as a model to be integrated throughout the city, offering 45 recommendations to make it work, including the establishment of a full-scale LAPD bureau.

“I was shocked by the response on the part of the LAPD. We made some major, major recommendations, and some of the most difficult have been or are in the process of being carried out,” Leap said.

In this case, the grave events of 2020 may have served as an accelerator instead of a brake. The CSP report was unveiled in March of that year. Two months later, the killing of George Floyd sparked a worldwide uprising against police brutality. And in July 2020, the LAPD unveiled its new Community Safety Partnership Bureau, led by Emada Tingirides, the department’s second Black female deputy chief.

Leap’s work with the program continues. With the input of community residents, she is designing new tools to ensure that CSP officers are fully trained, that residents continue to have a seat at the table and that the dozens of recommendations her team put forward are heeded.

“As researchers,” she said, “we’ve got to hold public agencies and institutions accountable and say, ‘Don’t pass the buck.’ ”