UCLA Luskin Faculty Win Public Impact Research Awards The Office of Research & Creative Activities honors scholars for work that connects the campus to local and global communities

By Manon Snyder

Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, was among six professors to receive the inaugural Public Impact Research Awards from the UCLA Office of Research & Creative Activities.

Established in collaboration with the UCLA Centennial Celebration but put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards recognize work that has clear and immediate benefits to local and international communities.

Honorees with a UCLA Luskin connection included Abrams; Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning; and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history, African American studies and urban planning. Public Impact Research Award recipients receive $10,000 prizes.

During an award ceremony on June 1, Abrams recounted the story of how she and her co-author Elizabeth Barnert of the Geffen School of Medicine came to do the research that led to the award.

“We heard a story of a 5-year old child who was prosecuted for a curfew violation, and we set our sights on preventing this from happening again,” Abrams told an audience that included UCLA Luskin benefactor Renee Luskin. “As a social worker and a pediatrician, we were shocked to note that in California, like nearly half of all U.S. states, the law did not shield young children from being brought into the justice system.”

They were told that it would be difficult to change a law that had been on the books since the early days of the child welfare codes. Other researchers dismissed the topic as not particularly important.

“Yet we persisted,” Abrams said.

They conducted a mixed-methods study that showed setting a minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system is not only better for children, but also politically viable. Their research also showed that, starting at younger ages, racial inequities were already problematic, particularly for Black children.

Their once “impossible policy goal” became a reality when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 439 into law in 2018, ensuring that no child under age 12 in the state of California can be legally prosecuted, even in the juvenile justice system, except in very rare circumstances.

View photos from the event:

UCLA Research Impact Awards

Abrams is a professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, and Barnert is an associate professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“I consider this project and the social policy impact to be the most important achievement in my career,” Abrams said. “I hope to inspire future scholars to conduct research that they are passionate about and that makes a difference.”

Advocates have since partnered with Abrams and Barnert to lead other states to pass or consider similar legislation. Thanks to their research, professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, now endorse a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction; their research was also used to draft a congressional bill that would set the minimum age for prosecuting youth in the federal criminal legal system at 12.

“I believe in a healthy and just society where all children have the support they need to thrive,” Barnert said.

OTHER AWARDEES CONNECTED TO UCLA LUSKIN

Cuff, based at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is founding director of cityLAB, an award-winning research center that studies how urbanism and architecture can contribute to a more just built environment. Based on cityLAB studies, Cuff and her team created the BIHOME — a full-scale demonstration of a compact dwelling unit designed to be located in backyards to meet rising housing demands — and BruinHub, a “home away from home” at the John Wooden Center for commuter and housing-insecure students. Cuff co-authored a 2016 bill to advance the implementation of backyard homes in suburbs, and is working on design and legislation for affordable housing to be co-located with public schools.

“At one of the finest public universities in the world, cityLAB-UCLA and our students at architecture and urban design have the privileged platform to demonstrate how to build a socially just, sustainable future,” Cuff said. “I am committed to design research that brings those new possibilities to the public.”

Lytle Hernández is the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and faculty director of Million Dollar Hoods, a big-data initiative that uses police and jail records to examine incarceration disparities in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Launched in 2016, the initiative’s research is being used for advocacy and legislative change, such as a report on the Los Angeles School Police Department that helped stop the arrest of children ages 14 and under in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Another report was critical for the passage of California legislation that ended money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Beyond using data to support new policies, Million Dollar Hoods uncovers and preserves stories from Los Angeles residents who have dealt with the policing system.

OTHER UCLA HONOREES

Two UCLA faculty members without a UCLA Luskin association were also honored with Public Impact Research Awards:

  • Alex Hall is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the UCLA College, whose research is focused on producing high-resolution projections for climate modeling, particularly in California. Hall extends his expertise beyond campus, working with Los Angeles water management agencies to help ensure the sustainability of water resources for the region. Hall is also working to understand the future of wildfires in the state. He co-founded the Climate and Wildfire Institute to champion collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and policymakers in the use of quantitative data on wildfires to shape management efforts in the western United States.

“We are in the midst of a sustainability crisis, and everyone must do their part to address it,” Hall said. “Nothing makes me happier than marshaling scientific resources to address some of the deepest sustainability challenges in California.”

  • Thomas Smith is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and founder of the UCLA Congo Basin Institute. As UCLA’s first foreign affiliate branch, the Congo Basin Institute works with organizations and the local government and communities to find solutions to environmental and developmental problems facing Central Africa. Continuing his commitment to conservation efforts in Africa, Smith is the founding president of the Conservation Action Research Network, which has provided more than $500,000 in grants to young African scholars. Smith is also the founding director of UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, which has conducted research in 45 countries to understand biodiversity in the tropics. He also co-founded the Bird Genoscape Project, which uses genomics to map declining bird populations’ migration patterns and how they can inform where to prioritize conservation efforts.

“With accelerating climate change and loss of biodiversity we are rapidly approaching tipping points for many of the world’s ecosystems,” Smith said. “Our team is making a difference by focusing on science-based solutions to mitigate threats to help save the planet.

Activating Justice Through a 21st Century Latinx Lens UCLA co-hosts a dialogue featuring leading Latinx voices with the goal of sparking a full transformation of the criminal legal system 

By Kacey Bonner

What would our criminal legal system look like if it was truly designed to reduce harm, advance public safety and end America’s legacy as the world’s leading incarcerator?

That was the question on everyone’s mind as leading Latinx elected officials, advocates, academics and media personalities convened to grapple with the issue of criminal justice — a topic of intense national debate.

Hosted by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, the May 13-14 convening “Advancing Criminal Justice Reform Through a 21st Century Latinx Lens” had several goals: creating greater visibility of Latinos within the justice reform movement; identifying opportunities to build solidarity with other communities most impacted by the criminal legal system; and advancing transformative policy focused on justice rather than punishment.

“For too long, Latinos have been left out of the criminal justice conversation, even though we are the second most negatively impacted group by numbers behind Black people when it comes to our criminal legal systems,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

With conversations led by faculty experts such as UCLA Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, over 1,000 participants tuned in to hear from a multiracial cadre of 40 speakers covering topics including ending youth incarceration, defunding the police, and the intersection of the criminal legal and immigration systems – all through a Latinx lens.

Speakers including journalist Maria Hinojosa and author Julissa Arce led lively discussions about the opportunity to create more truthful and inclusive narratives in the criminal justice space and develop tailored solutions that address the underlying structural and systemic deficiencies that drive people to engage in harmful acts.

“It was so exciting to see this come together with so many brilliant people who were able to bring fresh perspective on the issue, the challenges and opportunities before us and how we can work in solidarity across race and experience to achieve common goals that make our communities safer and healthier,” said LPPI fellow Paula Nazario, one of the lead organizers of the convening. A UCLA graduate, Nazario is now pursuing her master of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

The event’s opening plenary session included Kelly Lytle-Hernández, a professor of history, African American studies and urban planning at UCLA. Lytle-Hernández gave attendees key insight into the impacts of the criminal legal system on Latinos, the structural racism propping up the system of incarceration and how the criminalization of immigrants is working to expand systems of mass incarceration.

Breakout sessions then enabled attendees to think about how they can demand better data that creates a clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities ahead and how Latino-facing organizations — both within and outside the justice reform space — can work together to create broad change.

Throughout the convening, conversation returned to the immense data and knowledge gap that obscures the true impact of the criminal legal system on Latinx individuals, families and communities. If this gap persists, there is a risk of creating solutions that fail to address challenges unique to Latinos who are systems-impacted and perpetuating inequities that exist in our current criminal legal system.

A conversation with Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of Latino Justice PRLDEF, closed the two-day meeting. Cartagena said that, while the U.S. criminal legal system hasn’t changed much in the past five decades, it is on the precipice of big change — change made possible by communities that see an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally transform systems of justice.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that there have been amazing opportunities for organizing people around truth, and for having that truth talk to power,” Cartagena said.

“I think we’re stronger than ever to actually have conversations about dismantling systems, about what it means to invest in our communities in different ways and to think outside of every box at every corner so we can get things done.”

 

Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa moderates the opening plenary session with podcast host David Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, author Julissa Arce, District Court Judge Natalia Cornelio and UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle-Hernández.

Jonathan Jayes-Greene of the Marguerite Casey Foundation moderates a “crimmigration” panel featuring Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente, Abraham Paulos of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, UCLA Professor Jennifer M. Chacón and Greisa Martinez Rosas of United We Dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Planning Faculty Spearhead Mass Incarceration Archive Project

Urban Planning Professors Kelly Lytle Hernández and Karen Umemoto as well as incoming Urban Planning Assistant Professor Marques Vestal are collaborating on a new initiative to create an archive on policing and mass incarceration in Los Angeles. The project, called “Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration,” aims to collect, digitize and preserve a sustainable archive of data, testimonies, artifacts and police files for the next generation of research on racial and social justice. “The new platform will catapult our centers into the digital future in knowledge-sharing and knowledge production,” said Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. The archive will build off the work of the UCLA-based Million Dollar Hoods research project, a community-driven initiative that began in 2016 to quantify the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. Scholars from UCLA ethnic studies centers and the Million Dollar Hoods project will train UCLA students to work with the digital archives. “This new collaboration between Million Dollar Hoods and UCLA’s ethnic studies centers will preserve the documentary evidence of mass incarceration and its impact on people’s lives in Los Angeles while building a new digital bedrock for racial justice scholars and scholarship at UCLA,” said Lytle Hernández, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. The project will encompass research across several communities of color, highlighting ways in which they are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. “Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration” is made possible by funding from a three-year, $3.65 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Lytle Hernández Elected to Pulitzer Prize Board

Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history, African American studies and urban planning at UCLA, has been elected to the Pulitzer Prize board, announced Columbia University, which administers the prizes. The 19-member board — composed of journalists and news executives, academics and persons in the arts — selects winners of the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, books, drama and music. “I am honored to join the Pulitzer Prize board. The Pulitzer Prizes celebrate bold and creative storytelling across numerous formats, from journalism to music, history to poetry,” said Lytle Hernández, Thomas E. Lifka Professor of History and the director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “The Pulitzer Prizes also lift critical voices into the public square: voices that inform and inspire us while shedding new light on the world in which we live.” One of the nation’s leading experts on race, immigration and mass incarceration, Lytle Hernández is the author of the award-winning books “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.” She is also the director of Million Dollar Hoods, a big data research initiative at the Bunche Center that maps the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. For her historical and contemporary work, Lytle Hernández received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2019. She earned a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies at UC San Diego and a doctorate in history from UCLA.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez

Kelly Lytle Hernandez is a professor of History, African American Studies, and Urban Planning at UCLA where she holds The Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History. She is also the Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. One of the nation’s leading experts on race, immigration, and mass incarceration, she is the author of the award-winning books, Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (University of California Press, 2010), and City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). City of Inmates recently won the 2018 James Rawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians, 2018 Athearn Prize from the Western Historical Association, the 2018 John Hope Franklin Book Prize from the American Studies Association, and the 2018 American Book Award. Currently, Professor Lytle Hernandez is the Director and Principal Investigator for Million Dollar Hoods, a university-based, community-drive research project that maps the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. The Million Dollar Hoods team won a 2018 Freedom Now! Award from the Los Angeles Community Action Network. For her leadership on the Million Dollar Hoods team, Professor Lytle Hernandez was awarded the 2018 Local Hero Award from KCET/PBS and the 2019 Catalyst Award from the South L.A. parent/student advocacy organization, CADRE. In 2019, Professor Lytle Hernandez was named a James D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow for her historical and contemporary work.

For speaking requests, please contact Rolisa Tutwyler at CCMNT Speakers Bureau at info@ccmntspeakers.com

For media requests, please contact Jessica Wolf (UCLA Media Relations) at jwolf@stratcomm.ucla.edu

 

Awards

2010 Clements Prize for Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol

Honorable Mention, 2011 Lora Romero First Book Prize, American Studies Association

Honorable Mention, 2011 John Hope Franklin Book Prize, American Studies Association

Finalist, 2011 First Book Prize from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians

2007 Oscar O. Winther Award for the best article to appear in the Western Historical Quarterly.

2007 Bolton-Kinnaird Award for best article on the Spanish borderlands.

 

Selected Publications

“Hobos in Heaven: Race, Incarceration, and the Rise of Los Angeles, 1880 – 1910,” Pacific Historical Review v 83, n 3 (August 2014)

“Amnesty or Abolition: Felons, Illegals, and the Case for a New Abolition Movement,” Boom: A Journal of California (Winter 2011).

MIGRA! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (University of California Press, 2010)

“An Introduction to el Archivo Histórico del Instituto Nacional de Migración,” co-authored with Pablo Yankelevich, Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies v 34, n 1 (Spring 2009), 157-168.

“Persecuted Like Criminals”: The Politics of Labor Emigration and Mexican Migration Controls in the 1920s and 1930s,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies v 34, n 1 (Spring 2009), 219-239.

The Crimes and Consequences of Illegal Immigration: A Cross-Border Examination of Operation Wetback, 1943-1954,” Western Historical Quarterly (Winter 2006), 421-444.

“Ni blancos ni negros: mexicanos y el papel de la patrulla fronteriza estadounidense en la definición de una nueva categoría racial, 1924-1940,” Cuicuilco v 11, n 31 (Mayo-Agosto 2004): 85-104.

Mexican Immigration to the United States, 1900 – 1999: A Sourcebook for Teachers, published by the National Center for History in the Schools (Fall 2002).