In 1926 Clifford R. Shaw, a former Chicago parole officer (1921-1923) and probation officer of the Cook County Juvenile Court (1924-1926), became head of the IJR’s Department of Sociology. In this capacity he studied, treated, and supervised problem children and parolees, and oversaw delinquency and crime research.
Clifford Shaw personally began collecting life histories probably as early as 1921, and the collecting continued with the IJR at least into the early 1940s. The period of heaviest activity was 1929 to 1933. It is uncertain when the IJR ceased to collect the life histories of juvenile delinquents. A number of life histories probably were lost during various moves the IJR sociology department made during the 1960s.
In 1932 Shaw organized the Chicago Area Project, an experimental program in three low income areas of the city designed to involve residents in the effort to curb juvenile delinquency in their communities. The emphasis was on local residents working together in their own neighborhoods rather than outside professionals. The Chicago Area Project, of which Shaw became the administrative director in 1933, was eventually incorporated as a private nonprofit corporation with its own board of directors in 1934.
One of Shaw’s colleagues at the IJR (as well as at the Chicago Area Project) was Henry D. McKay. McKay held the position of supervising sociologist and research sociologist at the IJR intermittently from 1927 to 1972. His activities centered mainly upon experimentation and research. In his early years he was involved in research on delinquency, community characteristics, and criminal career development. Later he focused on group oriented social action programs in relation to delinquency. McKay taught at several Chicago area universities and colleges over the years and was head of the Division of Urban Studies at the IJR before his retirement in 1972.
Shaw and McKay published numerous books and articles, both separately and in collaboration that reflected their work on juvenile delinquency. These include: The Jack Roller (1930), The Natural History of a Delinquent Career (1931), and “Housing and Delinquency” (1932) by Shaw; Delinquency Areas (1929), Social Factors in Juvenile Delinquency (1931), Brothers in Crime (1938), and Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas (1942, revised 1969) by Shaw and McKay; and Nationality and Delinquency by McKay (with Solomon Kobrin).
Another of Shaw’s colleagues was Anthony M. Sorrentino, who served on the staffs of the IJR and the Chicago Area Project from 1934 to 1945, developing prevention and treatment programs for Chicago’s near west side. He carried out supervisory responsibilities in the Department of Sociological Services of the IJR from 1946 to 1957, also serving as Shaw’s administrative assistant.
As part of their research activities related to juvenile delinquency, Shaw and his colleagues at the IJR collected hundreds of life histories from juvenile delinquents, adult offenders, and their relatives. The two methods most often used to obtain life histories were a personal interview and a request to the individual to write his own story. In the case of the personal interview, the resulting transcript was edited by the IJR staff to produce a continuous story. When an individual was simply asked to write his own story, which seems to have been the preferred method, interviews were still conducted in order to prompt and guide the individual in his writing. When finished, the manuscript was typed by an IJR staff member with usually only spelling and obvious grammatical errors corrected. However, those histories that were published eventually, either in part or in full, underwent more extensive editing.
In his book, Oral History and Delinquency: The Rhetoric of Criminology, James Bennett reveals that the life histories were usually written in one of three places: the IJR sociology department offices (at 907 South Wolcott Street in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s), the communities in which the Chicago Area Project was active, or at Illinois detention facilities. At the time of their writing, the authors could be either free or confined, juveniles or adults.