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Jumped In: A UCLA Scholar's 10-Year Journey into L.A.'s Gang Culture

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By Jack Feuer

Published May 15, 2012 12:00 PM


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UCLA Department of Social Welfare Adjunct Associate Professor Jorja Leap (left) with former gang member Fabian Debora in front of a mural he painted. Debora also created the artwork for the cover of Leap's book. (Photo courtesy of Jorja Leap)

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Jorja Leap's new book, Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption. (Photo courtesy of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs)

For Jorja Leap '78, M.S.W. '80, Ph.D. '88, scholarship isn't in a library, on a computer screen or at some exotic faraway dig. Her focus is the street—more precisely, the mean and very dangerous streets where Los Angeles gangs hold sway.

The UCLA Department of Social Welfare adjunct associate professor has spent a decade studying “the life.” A recognized expert in gangs, violence and crisis intervention, she serves as the senior policy advisor on Gangs and Youth Violence for the Los Angeles County Sheriff and is completing a five-year longitudinal study of arguably the foremost gang intervention program in the nation, Homeboy Industries, with UCLA Associate Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke.

But as the wife of a former deputy chief of the LAPD and the mother of a teenage girl, Leap's work had as much, and arguably more, impact on her professional life than it did on her academic career. Now she has told that unique story in a new book, Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption. Using oral histories and interviews with gang members, social activists, parents, cops and her own deep ties to gang members and their families, she has compiled a compelling ethnography of gang life. Proceeds from the sales of the book benefit Homeboy Industries.

Recently, UCLA Magazine joined Leap in downtown L.A., appropriately in a spot close to both gang territory and LAPD headquarters, to discuss Jumped In. Check out the video below.

UCLA Professor Writes Book on Gangs



Jorja Leap, adjunct professor in the UCLA Department of Social Welfare, has published a book called Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption, detailing her experiences with gang life.

Video by Aaron Proctor '05.

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