Gifted sociologist Clifford Shaw was born in a small Indiana farming community in 1895. When he was a small child, he went into a blacksmith's shop and, while the owner's back was turned, stole some nails out of one of many large barrels full of the fasteners. The blacksmith had not seen this, and when he turned around and saw Clifford in the shop, he came up to the child and gave him a hearty "Hello, Clifford!" Ashamed, Shaw was about to leave when the nails fell out of his pocket. Their rightful owner picked them up. To Shaw's amazement, he did not harangue Shaw, call him a thief, or threaten to tell his parents; he simply asked: "Now, Clifford, what were you going to do with these nails?" The boy sheepishly answered, "I was going to build a wagon." "Well, we'll do it together," said the blacksmith cheerfully. They did, and Shaw never stole (at least, not from the blacksmith) again.

Shaw later identified this as an extremely significant incident in his life, one which most likely shaped the theories behind his life's work.

In 1926, Shaw's mentor Ernest W. Burgess recommended that a sociology research section be established at the Illinois Department of Public Welfare's Institute for Juvenile Research, and he also recommended that Shaw head the department. This is precisely what happened. In early 1927, Henry Donald McKay joined him to collaborate on research into juvenile delinquency. They conducted studies, chiefly in the Chicago area, and created some of the first systematic empirical sociological interpretations of the problem of juvenile delinquency, using oral history technique to generate socio-psychological studies of offenders.

From these studies, Shaw drew the following conclusions, which he used as theses for his later work:

  1. "the problems of delinquency in low income areas is to a large extent the product of the social experiences to which children and young people are customarily exposed."
  2. "effective treatment and prevention can be achieved only so far as constructive changes in community life can be brought about."
  3. "effective rehabilitation entails the reincorporation of the offender into some socially constructive group or groupings in the community."
  4. "in any enterprise which is likely to be effective in bringing about these changes, it is indispensable that local residents, individually and collectively, accept the fullest possible responsibility for defining objectives, formulation of policies, finding financial support, and exercising the necessary control over budgets, personnel and programs."

Shaw died in 1957, but his legacy lives on in the Chicago Area Project. He began this in the 1930s as a simple experiment with 3 Chicago neighborhoods, to see if his conclusions were, in fact, correct. The vision behind the Area Project was to foster a sense of unity in the community residents, so that they would not surrender to the temptation to become innocent bystanders, potential victims on their own streets. Also, the Area Project emphasized that natural leaders be sought out within the community, so that the residents were empowered, and not left feeling patronized as they followed orders from an outside agency. Shaw firmly believed that this would be psychologically beneficial to the residents, and would help the Area Project reach its goal of preventing juvenile delinquency from becoming an issue.

The idea caught on and expanded, first within Chicago, and then later into the Illinois Council of Area Projects, ICAP, with which DuCAP is affiliated. In 2001 a study was conducted by Harvard University of approximately 40 Chicago neighborhoods. Those that had an group of resident leaders-- either an Area Project or something less formal had significantly fewer incidents of vandalism and other hallmarks of juvenile delinquency. These neighborhoods were safer and more pleasant places to live, and the residents knew it. Shaw would be proud, and glad to know that his work has been implemented practically by others.

The information for this writeup came from the writing of and an 06/05/01 interview with Anthony Sorrentino, a student and colleage of Clifford Shaw.

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