Leah Jacobs

  • Assistant Professor

Dr. Jacobs’ scholarship is at the intersection of social welfare and criminal justice policy and intervention. Her research focuses on socio-structural risk factors for criminal justice involvement among members of vulnerable communities.  She is particularly interested in the role of neighborhood qualities in contributing to arrests among people with mental health and substance use problems, as well as reentry programs that seek to decrease recidivism among these populations. Dr. Jacobs is the Principal Investigator for From Cell Blocks to City Blocks, a study examining the way in which neighborhood risk/protective factors and behavioral health treatment affect recidivism among probationers.

Dr. Jacobs is also a former case manager, program planner and evaluator, and community organizer. She holds a BS in Psychology from Northeastern University, a dual MA in Policy and Planning and Child Development from Tufts University, and an MSW and PhD in Social Welfare from the University of California- Berkeley.

Currently, Jacobs is co-editing a special issue of the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare.

Research Interests

  • Neighborhood effects and criminal justice involvement
  • Criminal justice involvement among people with mental health and substance use problems
  • Diversion efforts and prisoner re-entry programming
  • Geospatial analysis and systematic social observation using Google Street View
  • Community-engaged scholarship

Funded Projects and Fellowships

University of Pittsburgh Center for Interventions to Enhance Community Health (2019), Fellow

University of Pittsburgh Central Research Development Fund (2018), Substance abuse treatment, neighborhoods, and housing: How services and social circumstances affect criminal recidivism

University of Pittsburgh Innovation in Education (2018), Building a classroom without walls: Teaching neighborhood assessment with Google Earth

National Institute of Justice Graduate Research Fellow (2016), More than mental disorder: The effects of neighborhood and treatment on recidivism for probationers with psychiatric diagnoses

National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism/Alcohol Research Group Pre-doctoral Fellow (2015), From cell blocks to city blocks: The role of neighborhood risk factors in predicting recidivism

Representative Publications

Jacobs, L. A., Ashcraft, L. E., Sewall, C., Folb, B., & Mair, C. (2020). Ecologies of juvenile reoffending: A systematic review of risk factors. Journal of Criminal Justice, 66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2019.101638

Jacobs, L. A. & Mark, H. (2019). Constructing the Structurally Competent Classroom. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 46(4). Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jssw/vol46/iss4/8

Jacobs, L. A., & Panichelli, M. (2019). From criminalized patients to risk-exposed agents: Reconceptualizing carceral involvement among individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. Deviant Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/01639625.2019.1631067

Jacobs, L. A., & Giordano, S. N. (2018). “It’s not like therapy”: Patient-inmate perspectives on jail psychiatric services. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 45(2), 265-275. 



Areas of Expertise