Year in Review

UCLA Law Magazine | Fall 2020

Criminal Justice Program Launches Innovative Juvenile Justice Fellowship

Leah Gasser-Ordaz is the Criminal Justice Program’s inaugural Juvenile Justice Fellow.

The Criminal Justice Program (CJP) at UCLA School of Law, with grant support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Liberty Hill Foundation, this year created a fellowship focused on advancing the interests of youth directly impacted by the juvenile justice system. In April, CJP hired its first Juvenile Justice Fellow, Leah Gasser-Ordaz, to perform research and identify best practices for diverting young people from the juvenile justice system.

The program works to support the Los Angeles County Division of Youth Diversion and Development, which has created the most ambitious diversion program in the nation. It seeks to dramatically reduce juvenile court involvement for young people by diverting a majority of youth stopped by law enforcement to regionally accessible community programs. This means that if youth successfully complete a diversion program, they will never have to engage with the juvenile court system.

“Leah has been a tremendous addition to CJP,” says Alicia Virani, the Gilbert Foundation Associate Director of the Criminal Justice Program. “In the short time she has been with our team, she has provided essential legal consultations and trainings to youth and community organizations to ensure the success of youth diversion throughout Los Angeles County.” 

In addition to consulting on the legal issues posed by the restructuring of law enforcement engagement with young people, Virani is an integral part of providing a roadmap for the expansion of restorative practices as alternatives to the juvenile court system. In doing so, she offers an important tool to encourage true accountability for harm that has occurred and make things as right as possible for all those affected by harm. It is a community- and strengths-based approach that L.A. County is committed to implementing and scaling up for young people.

Says Máximo Langer, faculty director of the Criminal Justice Program, “CJP is incredibly proud to be a part of this new initiative that is truly transforming the juvenile justice landscape in the County.”