Abrams’ Article Named Best of 2013

An article by Social Welfare professor Laura Abrams has been named the best article of 2013 to be published in the academic journal Social Service Review.

Abrams’ article, “Juvenile Justice at a Crossroads: Science, Evidence, and Twenty-First Century Reform,” was selected as the winner of the Frank R. Breul Memorial Prize, named for a University of Chicago professor of social service administration. The award carries with it a $1,000 honorarium.

Weaving together a survey of the history of the juvenile justice system with a detailed narrative of recent efforts to use scientific advances to spur policy reforms, Abrams’ article argues that “social workers ought to play a more visible role” in shaping the future of the system. Only the input of those who work most closely with troubled youth — and their families, schools and neighborhoods — can help build a better system, she writes.

The journal’s editorial board heralded Abrams’ inclusion of historical context, admiring the article’s ability to drive “the profession to take stock and to rethink its current direction.”

Abrams, who chairs UCLA Luskin’s doctoral degree program in Social Welfare, most recently wrote Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C, which draws on a decade of research and more than a year of fieldwork she and her co-author conducted at a juvenile justice facility in Minnesota. Reviews have recognized its “engaging narratives, rich observations, and descriptive depictions of human experiences.” In October 2013 Abrams was selected to deliver the Seabury Memorial Lecture at UC Berkeley.

Abrams’ article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Social Service Review, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 725-752.

Examining the Legacy of Slavery and Racism In an effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students' future careers, the School of Public Affairs hosted a film viewing and discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

By Robin Heffler
As part of a School of Public Affairs effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students’ future careers, some 170 students, faculty, and community members recently viewed a film and engaged in a lively discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

Hosted by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, participants gathered on Jan. 19 in the screening room of the Acosta Training Complex to see an abridged version of the documentary film, Traces of the Trade.

In the film, which aired on PBS in 2008, producer and director Katrina Browne tells of her shocking discovery that the De Wolfs of Rhode Island, her prominent, Caucasian ancestors, were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Together with nine other De Wolf descendants, Browne retraces the slave-trade triangle — from Bristol, Rhode Island to slave forts in Ghana to a family plantation in Cuba and back to Bristol. Along the way, they struggle with the politics of race, how to “repair” the centuries-long damage of slavery, and their own Yankee culture and privilege.

After the screening, Browne reflected on one cousin’s insistence that he would have gone to Harvard even if he wasn’t from a privileged family. “When the wind is at your back you don’t notice it,” she said. “You don’t realize the forces supporting you as you move forward, but you do when you’re faced with obstacles to success.”

African-American co-producer Juanita Brown noted that “We must recognize that race is complex, and that black and white is only one element. We invite you to see this conversation as the jumping off point for conversations about other people and races.”

Program participants engaged in one-on-one discussions about the film, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“No one wants to associate with the oppressor because of the guilt and shame involved, but we need to acknowledge history and how it plays out in the present,” said Amy Smith, a first-year social welfare graduate student, who had just spent the day discussing white privilege in her class on “Cross-Cultural Awareness.” “And, since racism is a problem that affects everyone, everyone should be part of the solution.”

Associate Professor Laura Abrams, who along with Joy Crumpton and Gerardo Laviña leads the “Cross-Cultural Awareness” class in the Department of Social Welfare, saw the issues raised by the film as important for social workers. “In a helping profession, it’s easy to see clients as having made bad choices rather than seeing their lives as structured by disadvantages and inequalities related to race, class, and gender,” she said.

Gilliam, who served as an early advisor to the film, said the event was the second of a planned series of programs focused on social justice issues. Last year, the UCLA School of Public Affairs had an exchange with the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, with each school hosting conferences on how to talk about race in the context of graduate education in public affairs.

“We want to do a better job of giving students the analytical tools to examine issues of social justice, which they will need to deal with the people they will be helping when they graduate,” he said.

Gilliam said plans include developing a curriculum, research opportunities, and a summer institute related to social justice. Together with Student Affairs, he also would like to hold social-justice dialogues with undergraduates, who then would dialogue with Los Angeles-area high school students.

Heffler is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer and former UCLA editor

Crime Forum Opens in Washington DC: Judge Alm Delivers on HOPE Rosenfield Forum brings together researchers to discuss methods of crime reduction

WASHINGTON, DC—Addressing the record incarceration rates across the U.S. and the boom in the prison population, the UCLA School of Public Affairs launched the first in a series of public discussions on critical national issues with the opening dinner of the Rosenfield Forums at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

“The Rosenfield Forums are an opportunity to bring together some of the country’s best thinkers, practitioners, advocates, policy makers, and other stakeholders,” says Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., “This week’s particular event focuses on encouraging all of us to think a little differently about how we reduce crime in the United States. This is an important and deeply corrosive phenomenon: it corrodes the public space, it corrodes our young people, and it crowds our prisons. Much of the worlds of crime and punishment are artificially constructed around these two poles—too much crime and too much incarceration. What you’ll see in this event is scholars grappling with the complexities of these issues, and presenting some elegant solutions—elegant in both simplicity and power.”

The inaugural forum, “Escaping the Prison Trap: How to Have Less Crime and Less Incarceration,” featured a keynote address on October 7 by the Honorable Steve S. Alm of the Hawaii State Judiciary. Alm is the creator of Project HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity and Probation and Enforcement), an innovative crime reduction program for drug offenses that has had dramatic success rates. Judge Alm described a frustrating sentencing and incarceration system that amounted to little more than a revolving door for minor drug offenders to move in and out of the judicial system.

“I can send them to the beach, or send them to prison—it’s crazy that these were the only options.” After gaining cooperation from several agencies, including the probation department, the sheriffs and U.S. marshals, Judge Alm created a systematic approach in which offenders were given instructions for calling a telephone hotline to see if they were selected that day for random drug testing. If they tested positive for drugs, they are arrested on the spot and brought up for a hearing within two days. “Swift and certain consequence is the key.” Says Alm, “If probationers know there will be caught and punished, they will not violate. Probation officers are pleased with the results, because clients were showing up to their appointments, and showing up sober.”

The program has had remarkable success in Hawaii (up to a 50% drop in repeat offenses among drug probationers); has been replicated by other judges; and has become the focus of research by UCLA Public Policy Professor Mark Kleiman and Pepperdine University Public Policy Professor Angela Hawken. The Department of Justice has funded a program to introduce the program to other jurisdictions across the country.

The Rosenfield Forums continue on October 8 at the Rayburn Building on Capital Hill with panel discussions on: reducing juvenile crime and incarceration, led by Associate Professor Laura Abrams of the Department of Social Welfare; the consequences of mass incarceration, led by Professor Michael Stoll of the Department of Public Policy; and getting more crime control with less punishment, led by Professor Mark Kleiman of the Department of Public Policy.

Challenges for Youth Reentering Society After Incarceration Social Welfare Associate Professor Laura Abrams joined the Howard Gluss Radio Show to discuss juvenile justice and reentry.

laura-abrams_9009188732_o_eLaura Abrams, associate professor of social welfare at UCLA, appeared as a guest on the Howard Gluss radio show (August 14, 2009) to discuss the barriers to successful reentry to society for juveniles in the incarceration system. Abrams is the director of the juvenile justice and reentry project, a program of the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA School of Public Affairs that fosters the reintegration of juvenile offenders into the community upon their release. The following are excerpts from the interview.

What are the major challenges that we face as a society for stopping young people entering the prison system?

“One of the things that it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around when we talk about juvenile offenders is that they are young people…and the majority haven’t committed violent crimes. They’re young people who deserve the opportunity to have a different pathway in their lives.”

“As a community, we think more about the punitive aspect of corrections and juvenile justice and not so much what happens when they return to society and when they transition to adulthood…When youth are get out of settings of incarceration, they’re often in a place where they don’t have school credits, or haven’t graduated from high school, they don’t have job skills, some don’t have families to return to. So they enter that already difficult transitional period of emerging adulthood without many skills or resources necessary to be successful.”

“Research has identified practices in the juvenile justice system that give youth a chance at better outcomes:

  • Diversion, or keeping low-risk offenders out of incarceration (through home arrest or probation);
  • Smaller settings, rather than large institutional settings;
  • Longer treatment duration than (6 months rather than 2 months);
  • Staff trained in therapeutic practices like cognitive behavioral work and family work; and
  • Addressing underlying problems such as substance abuse, mental health issues and learning disabilities.”