A new study co-authored by Laura Abrams, chair and professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, examines the need for a minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction. More than half of U.S. states lack a minimum age standard for prosecuting children, according to the study published in the journal Crime & Delinquency. Several states are considering setting a minimum age, but there is sparse research on whether doing so would protect children from “developmentally inappropriate proceedings beyond existing and competency statutes.” To fill this research gap, the UCLA team — including co-lead author Elizabeth Barnert, assistant professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and graduate students from the Luskin School — used California as a case study. After reviewing existing state laws, juvenile crime data and opinions of diverse juvenile justice stakeholders, they found a low number of children below age 12 are actually subjected to prosecution in juvenile court. However, they also found that existing legal protections are inconsistently implemented across the state. They concluded that a minimum age law would address existing policy gaps. Currently, California legislators are considering a bill to establish a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction, the oldest minimum age threshold in the U.S. “One of the most interesting facets of this study was discovering the absence of data or discussion about juvenile minimum age laws and capacity and competency laws and proceedings. This study beings to unravel this ‘black box’ of law and policy,” said the researchers. — Stan Paul
By Ryan Hatoum
When children are placed in juvenile detention centers, jails or prisons before their teenage years, they are much more likely to experience serious physical and mental health issues as adults, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.
The UCLA researchers reported that more than 21 percent of people who had been incarcerated as children reported poor general health in adulthood, compared with 13 percent for those incarcerated later in life and 8 percent for those never incarcerated. The study appears in the International Journal of Prisoner Health.
“Those at risk for imprisonment during childhood need special attention from the health care sector,” said Elizabeth Barnert, principal investigator of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The rates of poor health outcomes among people who’ve been incarcerated tell us there’s a huge need for us to take better care of them — both as kids and as adults.”
There has been a growing international movement to find alternatives to juvenile incarceration — or the detainment of minors in juvenile halls, probation camps and other juvenile justice facilities — for the youngest offenders. Many countries are raising the minimum age at which adolescents can be incarcerated and are deferring children to other programs for rehabilitation.
Researchers from the Geffen School, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital analyzed data from 14,689 adult participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Their analysis considered three groups: adults who had been incarcerated during the ages of 7 to 13; adults who had been incarcerated during the ages of 14 to 32; and adults who had never been incarcerated.
“From the data we have available, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why those who enter the juvenile justice system at a young age face greater health challenges,” said Laura Abrams, also a principal investigator of the study and a professor and chair of Social Welfare at the Luskin School. “It’s likely a combination of trauma, which can lead to troubled behavior and long-term health problems, and the lasting effects of the conditions of early imprisonment.”
A key study finding were the differences among the groups’ mental health symptoms. Thirty-eight percent of the people who had been incarcerated before age 14 experienced symptoms of depression in adulthood, contrasted with 24 percent of those who were incarcerated at age 14 to 32 and 15 percent of the never-incarcerated group.
In other findings, more than one in four of those incarcerated before age 14 reported suicidal thoughts as adults, contrasted with about one in 10 of the group incarcerated at later ages and one in 15 of the group who had never been incarcerated.
Among the respondents who had been incarcerated at the youngest ages — seven to 12 — the rate was even higher; half experienced suicidal thoughts and ideation in adulthood.
“Incarceration has human costs at all ages, but with children, it’s particularly problematic,” Abrams said. “Children need spaces to grow and thrive — not to be confined in jail-like settings.”
While this new analysis does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between early incarceration and poor health later in life, mounting research gives experts a sense of the factors involved.
One such factor is who gets incarcerated in the first place — for which research has shown there is bias. A study in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior found that of children with psychiatric disorders, those of a racial or ethnic minority are more likely than those who are white to be incarcerated rather than diverted to the community for treatment. As such children are placed into juvenile justice facilities, their health issues may be left untreated or worsen.
The UCLA study found disproportionate racial, ethnic and socioeconomic patterns in those incarcerated as young children. People incarcerated at the youngest ages were significantly more likely to be male, black or Hispanic than those incarcerated at older ages and those never incarcerated. They were also much more likely to have been raised in the lowest income group and in a single-parent household.
“We’re only now starting to understand the full effects of juvenile incarceration on the person, and from a health perspective, the needs of this population are largely going unmet,” Barnert said. “We need a system that effectively addresses their health challenges as early as possible — ideally preventing adolescents from ever reaching juvenile hall.”
This event is intended to spark critical conversations among students, researchers, activists, and policy makers about the many changes in youth justice. Some themes will include: financial reinvestment as a result of decarceration, the role of the voluntary sector in community-based alternatives, and how LA and California can pave the way for transformative youth justice.
At the event, we will feature some recent research from UCLA related to transforming youth justice from the school-to-prison pipeline all the way to desistance in emerging adulthood, including Professor Laura Abrams and Diane Terry (MSW ’04, PhD ’12)’s recent book on LA youth: Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.
Diversion: Professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80 (Moderator)
Hon. Peter Espinoza, Director, Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry
Gloria Gonzales, Organizer, Youth Justice Coalition
Sean Kennedy, JD, Director, Center for Juvenile Law and Policy
Kim McGill, Organizer, Youth Justice Coalition
Desistance: Professor Laura Abrams (Moderator)
Harry Grammer, Founder and President, New Earth
Chuck Supple, Director, Division of Juvenile Justice, CDCR
Diane Terry MSW ’04, PhD ’12, Senior Research Associate, Loyola Marymount University
Reception to be hosted by the Department of Social Welfare
Book signing to follow the event
Leaders of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs gathered with students during an informal Town Hall on Feb. 6, 2018, to answer questions posed by students in the School’s master’s and PhD programs. Joining Dean Gary Segura and his support staff were Public Policy chair J.R. DeShazo, Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams and Urban Planning chair Vinit Mukhija. A wide range of topics were covered, including questions that led Segura to offer personal reflections about his first year at UCLA. Among the other topics discussed by the four leaders were recent and pending changes to the School’s academic offerings, a current hiring effort that will add a large number of new faculty members by fall 2018, and what is being done by UCLA Luskin to further promote diversity and inclusiveness.
View a Flickr album of images from the Town Hall:
UCLA Social Welfare co-hosted a reception with the Pacific Region Universities at the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference in Washington D.C. on Friday, Jan. 12. During the conference, many UCLA Luskin faculty, students and recent graduates made presentations about topics of interest and recent research. Here is a list of presenters and topics:
- Qualities of Successful Re-Entry Programs for Young Men: A Focus Group Study
- From Research to Policy: How One Good Idea Can Influence State Law
- Social Work Research in the Current Presidential Administration: Responsibility, Ethics, and Social Justice
- Social Worker, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist: Does Profession Matter for Treatment Decisions for Antisocially Behaving Youth?
- South African Adult Caregivers as “Protective Shields”: Serving as a Buffer Between Precarious Neighborhood Conditions, Food Insecurity, and Youth Risk Behaviors
- I’m More Driven Now: Resilience and Resistance Among Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth Experiencing Homelessness
- Hearing Youth Voices: Experiences of Civic Empowerment Among Urban Youth (presented by Jason Anthony Plummer)
- In Their Own Words: Responses of Latinx Youth to the 2016 Presidential Election (presented by Rachel Wells)
Students and Recent Graduates
Skye Allmang, Kristina Lovato-Hermann, Lauren Willner, Rachel Wells
- Social Work Research in the Current Presidential Administration: Responsibility, Ethics, and Social Justice
Joanna L. Barreras
- Does Growing up with Father Involvement Matter? Investigating the Association of Black Women’s Early Father Involvement to Early Childbearing
- Living in Public Housing: A Mother’s Childhood Contact with a Father Predicts Offspring’s Contact with Their Father
- Assessing the Effectiveness of City-Wide Trauma-Informed Trainings
- Enforced Separations: A Qualitative Examination on the Impact of Parental Deportation on Latino-a Youth and Families
Jason Anthony Plummer
Sarah Soakai (Urban Planning)
- The Impact of ‘Compassionate Disruption’ Policies on Indigenous Populations: The Criminalization of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Houseless in Hawaii
- Increasing Our Understanding of Macro Practice in Low-Income Neighborhoods: A Teaching Case Study of a Nonprofit Organization
Brenda A. Tully
UCLA Luskin students taking part in the Diversity Fair included, from left, Nathan Serafin, first-year MURP; Esteban Doyle, first-year MURP; Katrina Lapira, second-year MURP; Chris Chen, second-year MPP; Gabriela Solis Torres, 2019 MPP/MSW; Sherri Gerard, second-year MSW; Samantha Calvillo, first-year MSW; and Marisol Granillo Arce, second-year MSW. Photo by Stan Paul
“You need diversity because it is excellence and its absence is a sign of intellectual weakness and organizational incapacity. So what we do here today and what we do at Luskin makes the country, Los Angeles and the world a better place.”
— UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura
By Stan Paul
Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was happy to host the second all-school diversity recruitment fair at UCLA. But, in truth, he would like to see it become redundant.
“I am hoping and believing that we are getting very close to the verge of making it redundant in what Luskin does,” said Segura, who has devoted his academic life to studying issues related to the issues highlighted by the fair.
“By your arrival next fall, Luskin will indisputably be the most diverse school of public affairs in the United States,” Segura said to an audience of students who have applied, or are thinking of applying, to one or more of the School’s three professional graduate programs in public policy, social welfare and urban planning.
In addition to UCLA Luskin’s outstanding faculty, Segura cited the School’s wide array of groups, caucuses and organizations — including the D3 Initiative (Diversity, Disparities and Difference) — and new programs, new hires and ongoing searches for new faculty focused on racial inequality, multicultural planning and immigration policy, among other areas of expertise.
The many UCLA Luskin student groups, along with their classmates, alumni, faculty and staff, came together again this year to organize the Dec. 2, 2017, event.
“At some point, the study of class and racial and sexuality differences as an understanding of public policy, social well-being and urban issues is not a niche, it is the discipline,” Segura said. “It’s 70 percent of the population.”
Joining the dean in welcoming fair attendees were faculty leaders in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, along with a panel of Luskin alumni representing all three graduate programs.
Making her pitch to candidates for the Master of Social Welfare professor and department chair Laura Abrams focused on recent tax legislation passed by the U.S. Senate.
“What does the tax bill have to do with social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs?” she asked. “Everything,” came a soft voice rising from the audience, stealing a bit of Abrams’ thunder.
“That was on my notes,” quipped Abrams, who explained that the bill would directly attack Social Security, Medicare and “all the public benefits that are the foundation of our social welfare system.”
She then asked who would deal with the costs of economic hardships on the front lines.
“Social workers!” she answered emphatically, adding, “We are going to have to be the ones who pick up the pieces of those who are displaced, who are homeless, who are pushed into the criminal justice system, who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have housing.
“So,” Abrams added, “we need all of you, not just those entering social welfare, but the planners and the policy makers because you are the future that is going to have to fix what is happening today.”
Manisha Shah, associate professor and vice chair of Public Policy, highlighted the expertise of Luskin faculty in areas such as health policy, education, immigration, inequality, science and technology.
“We have a lot of flexibility in the department based on what your interests are and what you want to do, what type of policy arena you want to work in,” said Shah, who cited the department’s mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches to evidence-based policymaking and analysis.
Vinit Mukhija, professor chair of Urban Planning, said that diversity and excellence are not trade-offs in outlining the holistic approach his department — which will soon celebrate 50 years at UCLA — takes in making admissions decisions. Urban Planning emphasizes not only grades but also a student’s personal statement, recommendations and the importance of relevant work experience.
Mukhija, who studies informal housing and slums in the global north and south, explained his own interest as a planner in finding ways to improve living conditions in slums, and his goal to “learn about them to change our ideas about cities and about our design ideas, our rules and to have more just cities.”
Also providing information and encouragement were recent graduates of the Luskin School’s programs who participated in a series of discussions with aspiring students.
Panelists were asked what motivated them to apply to Luskin in their chosen disciplines.
“Communities of color are not always exposed to urban planning although we’re often experiencing the negative effects of what actually happens,” said Carolyn Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Vera, who now works at a transportation consulting firm, said that when she moved back to Los Angeles following her undergraduate years, she didn’t recognize the city she grew up in, citing the effects of gentrification. Vera said urban planning is such a diverse field and, “I knew I wanted to stay in L.A. and work with my community.”
It was homelessness that brought Cornell Williams MSW ’12 to UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.
“I was homeless for a year. I had a college degree and I was sleeping in the park,” said Williams, now a psychiatric social worker for Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and clinical director of the Jeffrey Foundation in Los Angeles. “Like a lot of our clients and people we have the passion to serve, I was stuck in that position and I had no knowledge of resources and access.”
Williams said the experience forced him to ask tough questions about himself and his future. “I came to one of these events and had an interest in all three programs,” but he said that Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of D3, “was a big part of helping me conjure or stir the gifts inside of me to choose social welfare.”
Williams said UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare gave him the flexibility to work in “every environment you can think of, and I’ve worked in a good number of them myself.”
The day’s events also included breakout sessions led by a number of the School’s sponsoring and organizing student groups: D3, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus, Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity, and Planners of Color for Social Equity.
Attending the event was recent UCLA graduate Vanessa Rodriguez, who said she hopes to enroll in the MSW program next fall. Rodriguez, who grew up in Boyle Heights and has worked with children with autism, said she has always had a passion for helping people. She said her reason for pursuing an MSW degree would be to work with women and victims of domestic abuse.
Among the staff and student volunteers who made the day a success was second-year MSW candidate Marisol Granillo Arce, who said she had attended a number of Luskin diversity related fairs before applying. Granillo Arce, who now also works as a graduate researcher for the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, said it is exciting to meet future agents of change and tell them: “You’ve got what it takes to be a social worker, urban planner, and public policymaker.”
Granillo Arce added: “I think that individuals thinking of applying get the unique opportunity to know the staff, professors and students in the different departments. It is truly inspirational. You end up leaving the fair more confident and inspired.”
Join Professor Laura Abrams at the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the New Earth Arts and Leadership Campus Gardena.
New Earth provides educational, vocational and empowering social justice programs to students ages 16-25.
Speaker: Harry Grammer, Founder of New Earth
Book Signing: UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Laura Abrams & LMU Senior Research Associate Diane Terry, “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formally Incarcerated Youth”
Host: Sean Hill
Performances: Kevin Sandbloom, FLOW Youth Performances
RSVP to email@example.com
A National Service and Civic Engagement Research grant of $100,000 to Laura Wray-Lake and Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare will contribute to research dedicated to increasing and strengthening the nation’s understanding and knowledge of civic engagement in America. Wray-Lake will be principal investigator and Abrams will be co-principal investigator for a study that aims to generate a more comprehensive understanding of what youth civic engagement looks like in urban contexts. This project will draw from interviews with urban youth as well as nationally representative survey responses. It will document how urban youth of color define their communities and describe their positive contributions. It will also identify obstacles that prevent youth from becoming more engaged in their communities, and researchers will study the kinds of opportunities and relationships that empower youth to become civically engaged in the face of adversity. UCLA is among 14 U.S. higher education institutions receiving Corporation for National & Community Service grants totaling more than $1.3 million. The federal agency oversees AmeriCorps and the nation’s volunteer initiatives.
MSW student Sandra Delgado speaks during her rapid response research presentation. Photo by Stan Paul
By Stan Paul
Research, by design, is focused, systematic, methodical. It takes time.
But when information moves at the speed of social media, and false, distracting and potentially harmful information can be spread worldwide via tapping a screen in the middle of the night, there is a pressing need for responsible research that can be produced in real time.
A dozen social welfare graduate students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs reacted to this challenge by taking on projects — above and beyond their required studies — to match their data-gathering and synthesizing skills with the ability to make useful information available quickly to communities that may need it.
The social welfare master’s and doctoral students researched topics such as hate speech and immigration.
“You are going to enter your profession, a profession built around the question of human caring, at a time where human caring is not held in particularly high esteem,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said in introducing “Rapid Response Research in the Trump Era,” a June 1, 2017, gathering at the Luskin School to review student projects.
Segura, whose research has centered on representation and empowerment, said: “You know the challenges that all of us face … across all racial and ethnic, socioeconomic subpopulations in the United States: access to affordable health care, dealing realistically and honestly with challenges that individuals and families face, providing quality education and job opportunities for people. The list is unbelievably long.
“The first piece of advice I’m going to give you for resistance is to call things by their name,” Segura said. “We must begin our resistance by calling things what they are: Racism is racism, sexism is sexism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are what they are.” He urged students not to pass these things off as merely rants not worthy of comment or notice.
Laura Abrams, the incoming chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, said that a list of potential research ideas was presented to social welfare students early in the academic year, and a number of groups responded. The criteria for the projects included working with real-time data from social media platforms such as Twitter.
Abrams said the research topics “were going to be more immediately applicable to what communities might need in order to resist and they had to be social justice oriented.” Social welfare faculty such as assistant professors Ian Holloway and Laura Wray-Lake served as advisers for the students.
One project examined Twitter data based on the motivations of those who participated in the Women’s March, and how that motivation connects — or doesn’t — with broader issues of racial justice.
One immigration issue tackled by the students was part of a nationwide project asking how young people have been affected by the policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration. That project relied on responses from Latino high school students. The information gathered is intended to inform educators and others working with adolescents.
First-year MSW student Alexandra Rhodes said she studied anti-LGBT hate speech and the incidence of particular words used on Twitter.
“I was interested in seeing if anti-LGBT hate speech on Twitter increased after Donald Trump’s election,” said Rhodes, who gathered information from more than 40,000 users who had tweeted anti-LGBT search terms. From that group, just over 10,000 users were randomly selected for comparison of the number of such tweets before and after the election.
“I was most interested in how Donald Trump’s election was affecting the LGBT population given his seemingly anti-LGBT rhetoric and policies,” said Rhodes, who is primarily interested in working with the LGBT population and is considering pursing a Ph.D. in social welfare.
“It is very important to me to do ethical and essential research in my community and build evidence to support how we have been affected by various social changes and policies,” Rhodes said. “For now, I’m focusing on getting involved with research in whatever way I can as an MSW student. It is important to do research and look at the data and respond to what is happening right now.”
Abrams said she hopes that this becomes a tradition that can continue to be built into the curriculum in a meaningful way.
“As a Social Welfare Department, the rapid response research projects are a prime example of what we can accomplish when we have an idea, put our heads together, and work hard as team,” Abrams said. “I am proud of the students for carrying out their projects in such a timely and rigorous manner.”
For their new book, the authors interviewed 25 men and women ages 18-25 in Los Angeles who aged out of the juvenile justice system. Photo illustration by Stan Paul
By Stan Paul
What are the prospects for young men and women who grow up in and then age out of the juvenile justice system?
Research and the media paint a bleak picture for those whose formative adolescent years have been intertwined with incarceration, and may continue to traverse the revolving door of probation, detention and corrections into their adult lives.
Using in-depth, in-person interviews, UCLA social welfare professor Laura S. Abrams and Diane J. Terry SW Ph.D. ’12, who also earned her MSW degree at Luskin, have presented a more nuanced portrait of life after juvie in their new book, “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth” (Rutgers University Press).
Desistance is often defined as “the movement toward the complete termination of offending,” yet in their study the authors are able to hone in on the nuances of this process for young adults.
Abrams and Terry collected firsthand stories and insights to answer the following questions: What does everyday life look like for young people who age out of the juvenile justice system? And how do young people navigate the transition to adulthood while attempting to stay out of the hands of the law?
Terry, now a senior research associate at Loyola Marymount College’s Psychology Applied Research Center, and Abrams interviewed 25 men and women ages 18-25 in Los Angeles who aged out of the juvenile justice system. Some interviews spanned numerous years to understand the transition as “emerging adults” and the participants’ “everyday” experiences of constructing lives after growing up in the juvenile justice system.
The researchers said that they looked at those whose lives lie between the extreme narratives that predict failure or success against all odds. They focused on the challenges and opportunities of desistance from crime and alongside becoming an adult — those neither giving up on their goals nor experiencing a simple and straightforward pathway to success.
“Criminal desistance is not an end goal; it is a process. And it is certainly not linear,” Abrams said. The book is the culmination of a decade of Abrams’ work on juvenile re-entry and desistance — research she started upon arriving at UCLA in 2006.
Among the chapters in the books are “The Road to Juvie,” “Locked Up and Back Again” and “Now I’m an Adult.” The book also covers the very different points of view and experiences of men and women in the juvenile justice system.
“The young women have a unique story, and much of their post-incarceration lives revolve around finding and experiencing a sense of ‘home’ that they didn’t have in their youth,” Abrams said.
Another chapter, “You Can Run but You Can’t Hide,” points out the dangers that persist when youth transitioning to adulthood return to their old neighborhoods. Those youths said that they feel marked by their histories.
“We’re all marked. Forever. All of us. No matter how much the transformation,” said a young man named Oscar, whose story features prominently in the book.
Abrams and Terry said that they count this discovery as one of the most important lessons they learned from the interviews. “From the young men’s world view, being marked was partially related to the stigma from appearance, age and race, but was also tied to navigating the urban environments of Los Angeles as former gang members, drug dealers and those who law enforcement viewed as criminals,” Abrams said.
Abrams and Terry previously published a paper from these interviews, “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide”: How Formerly Incarcerated Young Men Navigate Neighborhood Risks.” In that paper, published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review, the researchers wrote about how young men contend with everyday risks — including old gang ties — and complex survival strategies in high-adversity environments.
Abrams and Terry said that research from criminology to biology informed their newest study. But it was the insights gathered from more than 70 interviews that helped them understand the factors that may affect criminal desistance — age, maturity, social bonds, internal motivation, external hooks for change, and neighborhood conditions, among others.
“Although we fully acknowledge that the juvenile justice system continues to create a group of youth who are disadvantaged as they enter adulthood, we contend that these young men and women are a great deal more than their bleak odds,” the authors wrote. They also note that as juveniles age out of the system and are suddenly deemed adults left to their own devices, they are thrust into adulthood and responsibility earlier than their peers who may have access to more social and economic resources.
“Transitioning to adulthood with little support and an incarcerated past is hard,” Abrams said. “There is a lot of trauma to contend with. Most of the youth were struggling with just daily needs. Their lives changed rapidly and unpredictably.”
In the final chapter, the authors recognize the limitations of social safety nets in providing youth with everything needed to overcome barriers to criminal desistance. They call for specific policies for this group similar to those that exist for former foster youth.
“As we listened to the narratives of our participants and watched their adult lives unfold, we were amazed at the ingenuity and resilience of these young men and women to navigate immense obstacles they faced,” Abrams said. “In the end, their stories taught us that all young people have the capacity to reach beyond the labels assigned to them.”