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Published in Print: June 17, 1998, as Youth Curfews No Cure for Crime, Study Says

Youth Curfews No Cure for Crime, Study Says

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Curfews do not reduce juvenile crime and, in some cases, are even associated with an increase, a California study concludes.

The Justice Policy Institute, a policy and research group at the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, released the report last week.

The authors used data from the California Department of Justice to compare curfew-arrest rates and youth-crime rates statewide from 1978 to 1996.

They also looked at similar statistics in a dozen of the state's most populous counties and 21 cities with populations of more than 100,000 in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"The study results were clear: Youth curfews don't reduce the rate of youth crime--not for any race of youth, not for any region, not for any type of crime," the authors say in the report.

For More Information

Read "The Impact of Juvenile Curfew Laws in California," from the Justice Policy Institute; phone: (415) 621-5661.

The authors, Dan Macallair, the associate director of the center, and Mike Males, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, also point to what they say is a racial bias in curfew enforcement in four large counties: Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Fresno, and Ventura.

Mr. Macallair and Mr. Males found that Latino and African-American teenagers were more likely than white teenagers to be arrested for violating the local curfews.

Rise in Other Arrests

The report, "The Impact of Juvenile Curfew Laws in California," says that when curfews are enforced, there is an increase in misdemeanor offenses--aside from curfew violations themselves--among white and Asian-American youths.

The authors also found that as curfew enforcement increased, there were more juvenile misdemeanor arrests in Riverside and San Diego counties, higher rates of youth property crime in Orange County, and higher rates of youth homicide in Santa Clara County.

Though many cities have had curfews on the books for decades, interest in using such ordinances to help prevent juvenile crime has resurfaced in the past five to 10 years.

In Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last month upheld an earlier decision that ruled the city's curfew unconstitutional. Recent curfew laws have been enacted in several states, including Texas, Florida, and New Jersey. ("Concerns About Crime Prompt Cities To Enact Curfews for Minors," March 16, 1994.)

Critics of curfews said the report provides further evidence that the policies don't work.

"We've been saying for years that a curfew is not going to have any effect on the bad kids," said Arthur Spitzer, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union's capital-area office in Washington.

"Kids who don't want to break the law, they are the ones who are going to be locked up in their house every night," Mr. Spitzer said.

Officials Stand by Policy

A citywide, 10 p.m. curfew for teenagers in San Diego--on the books since 1947 but not strictly enforced until 1994--drew criticism and a lawsuit from the ACLU. The curfew was ruled unconstitutional last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit as being too vague, violating the First Amendment rights of teenagers, and denying parents discretion in raising their children.

The city quickly adopted a new curfew law that includes several exceptions. And city officials, who released new crime statistics in March, continue to support their policy.

"We do show substantial drops in crime," said Scott Maloni, the press secretary for Mayor Susan Golding, adding that the mayor attributes much of that trend to the city's juvenile curfew and its daytime-loitering ordinance.

Crime reports for San Diego show a 7.7 percent drop in the number of juveniles who are victims of violent crimes during the after-school hours between 1996 and 1997, a 24.3 percent drop during curfew hours, and a 13.8 percent decrease during the day. The arrests of juveniles during curfew hours also dropped by 8.5 percent.

Vol. 17, Issue 40, Page 13

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