Intervening in Violence: “People Join Gangs Because of a Lethal Absence of Hope” Associate professor Jorja Leap discusses factors that lead to young people joining gangs on radio show

Jorja Leap, adjunct associate professor of social welfare, appeared as a guest on the Howard Gluss radio show to discuss the factors that lead to young people joining gangs.

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Jorja Leap is an expert in crisis intervention and trauma response. Her research examines gangs, prison culture and high-risk and system-involved youth

“So many of the young men and young women I have worked with over the years come from families where there has been abuse,” says Leap. “They come from families where other family members have been gang members themselves. They come from families where there has been substance abuse and multiple problems and they also come from communities that are impoverished, but also more importantly communities that are affected by violence.”

The following is an excerpt from the interview:

GLUSS: We need the facts and then we need an emotional connection to the facts. So give us some of the facts.

LEAP: Well, the facts are, and I’m going to quote Father Greg Boyle here, gangs do not arise and people do not join gangs because of violence, people join gangs because of a lethal absence of hope.

GLUSS: Which is depression.

LEAP: It’s depression, you’re absolutely right. It’s a sense of powerlessness. It’s feeling there are no opportunities, no options, no one who cares. And that’s what it comes from. It comes from depression, and it also comes from, this will come as no surprise to you and I’m sure to other listeners, it also comes from families and communities.

So many of the young men and young women I have worked with over the years come from families where there has been abuse. They come from families where other family members have been gang members themselves. They come from families where there has been substance abuse and multiple problems and they also come from communities that are impoverished, but also more importantly communities that are affected by violence.

And you’ve mentioned that I’ve worked all over the world and one of the commonalities is that when young people and children are raised in violent communities they often have post traumatic stress disorder even as they are growing up and they will join gangs and engage in violent behavior strangely enough in order to feel empowered.

GLUSS: There’s a sense of respect and self esteem with that.

LEAP: Exactly…now you know, for example, I witnessed one very powerful transformation. There are young men and young women who are now being trained, former gang members that are being trained in solar panel installation, a job that with which they can earn a tremendous amount of money. The transformation in them and the sense of control they begin to feel is just astonishing in terms of themselves and their identity.

Listen to the entire interview here.

Dr. Jorja Leap is a professor at UCLA, a recognized expert in crisis intervention and trauma response and has been involved with training and research for the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as part of post-war development and conflict resolution in Bosnia and Kosovo and has conducted work with the families of victims of the 9/11 WTC disaster. She is the author of the book, “No One Knows Their Names.”

Questions for Sidewalk Scholar Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris Urban Planning professor details the importance of the urban sidewalk in new book.

Anastasia Louaitou-Sideris

Anastasia Louaitou-Sideris

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning and a scholar of urban design and urban history at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, has researched the uses of all kinds of public spaces, from parks to plazas. Now she and her former Ph.D. student, Renia Ehrenfeucht, have tackled a most pedestrian subject, the lowly urban sidewalk. In their new book, “Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotation over Public Space” (MIT Press, 2009), Loukaitou-Sideris and Ehrenfeucht, now an assistant professor at the University of New Orleans, track the furious battles that have been fought on sidewalks over free speech, public access and conflicting uses. They have looked into policies governing sidewalks in five cities — Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Miami and Seattle — and found reasons why some cities have a vibrant sidewalk culture and in other cities, sidewalks are devoid of life.

The following is excerpted from an interview with UCLA Newsroom.

What first intrigued you about sidewalks?

Coming from Athens, Greece, where there is a very intensive use of sidewalks, I experienced a cultural shock when I first came to this country in 1983 as a graduate student and saw that sidewalks were empty in most places. This was so much in contrast to my own life experiences. I always had this question: Why are American sidewalks empty? What happened to the pedestrians? The book really responds to these questions.

In your book, you talk about sidewalk culture. What do you mean by that?

It’s the ability of people to territorialize this public space for positive uses because they feel that it is their own. As a citizen of a city, you feel you can jog, walk your dog or use this public space for public discourse, to display wares or communicate with your neighbors. But there are many instances where our laws have discouraged this sidewalk culture from developing. Cities now require permits for many uses of this public space. And these have intensified over the last decade.

Take street vending. It’s banned in Los Angeles, even though you can still find some street vendors in many communities, especially in East L.A. But we have banned not only street vending from sidewalks, but public demonstrations and celebrations. In the book, we document how over the years this emptying of sidewalks took place through regulations and ordinances.

Luskin School of Public Affairs Launches 2009-2010 Senior Fellows Cohort KCET’s Val Zavala opened the welcome event for the new cohort of Fellows, who have been matched with 58 students.

Together with several returning Senior Fellows, including the keynote speaker, KCET’s vice president of news and public affairs, Val Zavala, the 2009 Senior Fellows Breakfast sparked conversations about career interests, networking, and policy issues, to be further followed up with activities throughout the academic year.

Fifty-eight students are participating in the Senior Fellows program this year. Over the thirteen years since the program was created in 1997, more than 600 students have been matched with individual mentors for professional development.

“You’re really going to enjoy this,” said Zavala, addressing the new Senior Fellows, “the time you spend is true quality time, both for the young people and in relationship with the School.”

This year’s cohort includes new participants who are professionals from the media, public service, business, environmental, and government sectors: Hasan Ikhrata, executive director, Southern California Association of Governments; BongHwan “BH” Kim, general manager, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, City of Los Angeles; Frank I. Luntz, president of The Word Doctors; Jim Newton, opinion editor-at-large, The Los Angeles Times; Mary D. Nichols, chairman, California Air Resources Board; Katherine Aguilar Perez, executive director, Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles; and William E. Simon, Jr., co-chairman, William E. Simon & Sons, LLC.

“Get them to your workplace, show them around and introduce them to your colleagues,” Zavala urged students, “make it a real high priority.”

The School of Public Affairs opened the 2009-2010 Senior Fellows program at a welcome breakfast this morning at the UCLA Faculty Center. The Fellows, selected for their distinguished leadership across sectors, are invited to contribute their time and expertise through a career-site visit program, professional mentorship of two to three current School of Public Affairs students, and a policy briefing on leadership, management, or a topic relevant to their field of expertise. Students who participate in the program are selected in a competitive process and matched to a Fellow at the recommendation of graduate advisors and faculty in their respective departments.

Click here to view the event photos.

Escaping the prison trap: UCLA professors, criminal justice experts tackle prison crisis at DC forum UCLA participates in first Rosenfield Forum in Washington D.C., bringing together top researchers from across the country.

UCLA brought together top researchers in the criminal justice field, congressional staff, a high-ranking official in the Obama administration and a California congressman for its first Rosenfield Forum in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8.
More than 70 people participated in the half-day event, titled “Escaping the Prison Trap: How to Have Less Crime and Less Incarceration,” which included three panels and presentations by premiere scholars from UCLA and other institutions.
“We’re fortunate that within the walls of our school we had a diversity of approaches to the issues” that helped UCLA in hosting this forum, Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs, said in his opening remarks. “At the risk of sounding immodest, this diversity of approaches and viewpoints is a hallmark of our school and one of its great strengths.”
U.S. Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, the third-highest ranking official in the Justice Department, led off the forum with a discussion of the Obama administration’s approach to crime prevention and reduction. His comments underscored Gilliam’s point about the wealth of expertise at UCLA.
“Everyone always talks about being ‘tough’ on crime, but our focus is being ‘smart’ on crime,” said Perrelli, who also worked under former Attorney General Janet Reno during the Clinton administration. “Research in this area is not research for its own sake; it is the kind of thing we really do hope to examine, implement and, frankly, learn more from. There really are people, particularly in this Justice Department, who are listening to the outcomes of your conversations and the research that you develop. We’re excited to hear more.”
“Escaping the Prison Trap” sought to address some of the major issues confronting the U.S. justice system today, including the country’s unprecedented incarceration rate; the role of communities in reducing crime, especially among juveniles; and the development of innovative programs for deterring crime and reducing prison crowding.
Two additional Rosenfield Forums will bring together UCLA scholars with national and local leaders this academic year; the next addresses transportation issues, and the final forum will explore issues related to youth in the foster care system.
“We’re excited, we’re thrilled to be here in Washington,” Gilliam said at the outset of the forum, which helped broaden UCLA’s influence as an institution committed to helping solve some of the nation’s most pressing problems. “We want to promote UCLA faculty and inform — and hopefully influence — the national debate.”
Throughout the four-hour discussion, scholars laid out the problems with our current prison system and ways to fix it.
“You have to figure out what works,” Perrelli said. “Nothing, really, should be off the table, and if you’re going to figure out what works, you need evidence and research to do that.”
He asked for the academics’ help on that front.
“Help us think outside the box about the next generation of promising approaches,” he said. “I think we’re asking the right questions about how to really make communities safer, how to reduce crime.”
Using evidence-based approaches and research and determining how to use governments’ limited resources more effectively is the path U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department will follow, he added.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) repeated Perrelli’s request for assistance as he wrapped up the forum.
“We desperately need the expertise and insight of the people in this room,” he told the eight panelists and the experts assembled in the audience. “It’s always a fight in Congress” to try to change policy when crime is the issue.
Anyone who attempts to implement programs similar to the ones discussed during the three panels gets tagged as being “soft on crime,” Schiff said, making such programs a tough sell to legislators.
“But look at the crisis in California, where one-fourth of the prison population may have to be released by court order,” he said. “I don’t want to wait until we’re in a situation like that. We need to be more proactive, more thoughtful.”
Perrelli also addressed the issue’s political sensitivity and the implications of reform efforts.
“The easier course politically might simply be to take the ‘tough on crime’ approach, to announce the tough on crime mantra and put more people in jail,” Perrelli said.
But that won’t solve the problem, reduce crime or save money, he added.
“It shouldn’t surprise us that the system that we have now isn’t working particularly well,” Perrelli said. “You think about the amount of money that you’re spending on prisons, particularly in this era of budget cuts, and you ask yourself, ‘If I could make the community as safe or safer than it is today but reduce the level of incarceration and have those funds to do a host of other things, what could we do with that?'”
Panelists discussed a wide range of topics, from the effect of maximum-minimum sentencing guidelines to the perils of treating juvenile offenders as adults and the correlation between prison sentences and unemployment.
“The phrase ‘crime doesn’t pay’ is oft-repeated by those who are ‘tough on crime,’ yet statistics bear out that crime already doesn’t pay, literally,” said panelist Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor of public policy. “A burglar makes about $8 for every day he’s in prison.”
All the panelists criticized fixes that represent mere “tinkering” and recommended wholesale changes to the system.
“I don’t believe we can fix this with business as usual, but we can fix this — it is real,” said David Kennedy, director of the Center on Crime Prevention and Control at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
David F. Weiman, an economics professor at Columbia University and Barnard College, offered just one reason why fundamentally changing the system would be so challenging.
“The status quo is deeply entrenched,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle because there’s a system already in place.” Weiman likened the potential need to close prisons to the extremely politically sensitive process of military base closures.
“Imagine closing prisons,” Weiman said. “Each prison has constituency,” just like the bases.
As the forum wrapped up, Gilliam said that Associate Attorney General Perrelli had laid out the theme in his opening remarks.
“Maybe the theme of the whole forum is being ‘smart’ on crime,” Gilliam said. “It’s not a matter of whether we are ‘tough’ on crime, but are we ‘smart’ on crime?”
Gilliam also encouraged academics, when returning to their research, to focus even more on solutions.
“One of the things that plagues this field is a ‘crisis’ focus,” he said. “There aren’t enough solutions.”

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.”