Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare; Executive Director, Social Justice Partnership; Co-Founder and Director, Watts Leadership Institute
B.A. Sociology, UCLA; M.S.W., UCLA ; Ph.D., Psychological Anthropology, UCLA.
Areas of Interest:Criminal Justice, Death Penalty and Plea Mitigation, Gangs and Youth Violence, Juvenile Justice, Life History, Youth Development
Office Location:5234, Public Affairs
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Jorja Leap has been a member of the Social Welfare Department faculty at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs since 1992 and serves as the Executive Director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership. As a social worker/anthropologist and recognized expert in gangs, violence, and systems change, she develops, coordinates and directs real-life scholarly efforts that involve research, evaluation and policy recommendations at the local, state and national level. Dr. Leap has worked nationally as well as globally in post-war environments and settings beset by violence throughout her career, applying a multi-disciplinary, community-based approach to her research and capacity building efforts. Her current work focuses on gangs and community justice in multi-cultural settings, criminal justice and prison reform, and the dilemmas faced by individuals reentering society after incarceration, including women, a group often overlooked.
Dr. Leap has served as policy advisor on Gangs and Youth Violence for Los Angeles County, as an expert reviewer on gangs for the National Institute of Justice, and as the Clinical Director of the Watts Regional Strategy for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office. In addition, she has worked as the qualitative research director for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) Program. She has also been appointed to the State of California, Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), Standing Committee on Gang Issues. Through work she has engaged at the national level, she is now the Evaluation and Research Director for the Community Based Public Safety Collective.
Alongside these efforts, she has served as an expert witness in local, state ,and federal judicial proceedings, focusing on gangs, violence, and the relationships between trauma and criminalized behaviors. Additionally, Dr. Leap has authored a series of reports on gang membership, dynamics, and desistance in death penalty sentencing and plea mitigation procedures, appeals, habeas corpus hearings, and clemency proceedings. Dr. Leap works to educate the court in understanding the nuances of gang activity and the trauma that underlies so much of its commission. She continues to provide commentary on numerous television, radio and newspaper stories about gangs.
Currently, Dr. Leap is the lead researcher for the White House Community Violence Intervention Collaborative. Additionally, she is engaged in a five year, longitudinal evaluation of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang reentry program in the world, integrating UCLA undergraduate and graduate students in this ground-breaking research. She is the co-founder of the UCLA Watts Leadership Institute, working closely with the community-based leaders of Watts as well as its nonprofit network to build capacity and ensure equity in the vibrant community she is honored to be part of. Dr. Leap has authored numerous reports, chapters, and books, including Jumped In: What Gangs taught me about Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption with all proceeds going to Homeboy Industries and Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in one of America’s Toughest Communities with all the proceeds going to Project Fatherhood. Her latest book Entry Lessons: The Stories of Women Fighting for their Place, their Children and their Futures after Incarceration was published in 2022, with all proceeds going to Susan Burton and the A New Way of Life Reentry Program.
Learn more about Dr. Leap’s work.
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