The preliminary field work for Clifford Shaw's brain child, the Chicago Area Project (CAP), was done in 1932 in three ethnic Chicago neighborhoods: the Russell Square Polish community, the Near North Side, and the Near West Side. The results were favorable, and in 1934 CAP was created as a not for profit organization. In 1935, a fourth Area Project got started in the Back of the Yards community.

CAP was an experiment, designed to test the conclusions Shaw had drawn from his earlier sociological studies in the area of juvenile delinquency. In keeping with those principles, natural leaders from the working community were recruited for each Area Project's administration, and a strong emphasis was placed on the independent functioning of those committees. Soon, the local residents assumed complete responsibility for each Area Project.

In the late 30s, a group of social workers led by Hasseltine Taylor (who was associated with Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois) officially protested CAP's work. Taylor claimed that Shaw was a radical, and that his idea of empowering residents to take control of their community life was an infringement on her profession. These people were not trained; they had no background in social work; to give them a sense of authority and allow them to exert any sort of influence, Taylor claimed, would be counterproductive. Taylor even published a paper or two that supposedly debunked CAP. However, very little came of this, because by the 1940s it was pretty well proved that CAP was a feasible, valid, cost-effective aid in reducing the juvenile delinquency problem in Chicago, which was what it was designed to do.

CAP continued to grow; in the early 40s it expanded to a Mexican-American community on the Near West Side, and then later to the Near Northwest Side under the direction of Daniel "Moose" Brindisi. Eventually it reached the African-American South Side area, but unfortunately, a few years after the South Side Area Project was established there was a change in leadership and the new administrative head did not have much passion for the job. The workers soon became extremely dissatisfied, and the South Side Area Project was disbanded (the old administrative head actually started a similar project in the area, under a different name).

The first Area Project that got started outside of Chicago was the Quincy Area Project. When Shaw died in 1957, he was replaced as CAP's leader by his disciple, Anthony Sorrentino; this position changed when CAP became a state organization, under the Illinois Youth Commission (IYC). In 1965, all of the community committees fell under Sorrentino's jurisdiction.

In 1970 and 1971 there was yet another change in the bureaucracy controlling CAP, when the IYC was transferred to Illinois' Department of Corrections (DOC). The DOC was critical of and unwilling to understand the Area Project ideals regarding roles and responsibilities; they wanted CAP and the other committees to work hand-in-glove with the police as parole officers. Sorrentino correctly analyzed this to be a mistake; there would be a conflict of interest, as Area Project workers were meant to be community advocates, not regulators. So in 1976, CAP seceded from the DOC and got the Illinois State Legislature to establish the Commission on Delinquency Prevention instead. This was the beginnings of the Illinois Council of Area Projects (ICAP), with which DuCAP is affiliated.

Politics, however, continued to get in the way of CAP's functioning. In July of 1981 the Commission's budget was voted down by the legislature, and therefore the Commission was effectively abolished. As a last resort, the citizens who supported CAP went to Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), specifically their Community Services division, and begged for funding. Their efforts were successful.

The question becomes: is CAP itself successful? Juvenile delinquency entails a different set of social problems currently than it did a century ago. In Sorrentino's opinion, the use of illegal drugs and their trafficking was only a miniscule issue when Shaw did his studies, and of course the sort of gun violence seen frequently now was impossible at the time due to the state of the art of weapon-crafting. Also, there has been a shift in the type of population found in the inner city; when Shaw did his studies, Chicago's neighborhoods were composed of European immigrants, and the big issue in the 20s was initiation into organized crime circles like the 42 Gang. As those immigrant families assimilated themselves, they moved out of the neighborhoods in order to get away from the associated economics, and now those neighborhoods are populated with families from other ethnic backgrounds.

However, studies conducted recently by both the Rand Corporation and Harvard University seem to indicate that CAP and similar organizations do indeed have a dramatic effect on juvenile delinquency rates, as well as alleviating other problems within the community. The idea of a "people's organization" as being socially and psychologically beneficient may seem like common sense to some, but the tendency to look the other way is also strong, and it takes a conscious effort to actually create that organization and put it to use. CAP and the other Area Projects do just that.

The information for this writeup came from the writings of, and an interview with, Anthony Sorrentino.

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