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Prevention: Community Programs - Chicago Areas Project

cap youth social organizations

The coordination of existing community agencies was not ambitious enough for the likes of Chicago researcher Clifford Shaw. Shaw theorized that it was not social service personnel who play a crucial role in imparting conventional values to youth but rather youths' immediate and wider social circles found within their communities. Shaw believed that social programs can reduce delinquency in high delinquency areas only if they fully integrate the people and institutions that shape youths' lives on a daily basis, thereby strengthening the often strained social relationships between youth and adults.

Involving residents of high delinquency areas in crime prevention activities on a large scale was a daunting task. Shaw founded the Chicago Areas Project (CAP) with sociologist Ernest Burgess of the University of Chicago. To facilitate the recruitment of community members, the project, with the aid of government funds, hired local residents whose social network ties, personal investment, and knowledge of the community proved to be an asset to the recruitment process. These paid community leaders worked to organize more than forty community committees, which were composed of residents of the community. CAP granted these committees considerable autonomy in staffing decisions and in deciding the nature of their crime prevention activities. Delegating decision-making authority to community leaders was intended to increase their stake in the program and cultivate their capacity to form self-sustaining organizations.

From 1931 to 1944, CAP organizations launched recreation programs, deployed "detached workers" to counsel youth gangs, and sponsored limited educational/training programs for immigrants and others in need. While evaluations suggest that CAP had an ambiguous impact on delinquency and formed durable but not "self-sustaining" community organizations, it played a pivotal role in the history of community crime prevention programs. CAP established the feasibility of creating stable community organizations, even in areas with relatively high rates of poverty and heterogeneity. Additionally, it introduced the youth outreach worker approach that aims to blend service workers into the natural milieu of at-risk youth. Finally, CAP continues to offer a model to help bridge the disconnect between institutional agents of youth welfare and informal agents of socialization.

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