Time after time, curfews prove useless
James Alan Fox,
recent wave of teenage violence in and around
practice of rounding up teens in the wee hours is hardly a novel or uniquely
local idea. Hundreds of cities across
is the juvenile curfew law any harsher than in
Without any shred of evidence as to whether the curfew idea has any crime-fighting merit, it has been embraced by politicians of all stripes. The 1996 presidential campaign, for example, had both nominees - Bill Clinton and Bob Dole - advocating juvenile curfews, notwithstanding the fact that such moves are local not national initiatives. Of course, for both presidential hopefuls, the curfew was a symbolic gesture for their "family values" advocacy. What did they have to lose? Certainly not any votes. Those directly affected by these restrictions weren't old enough to count on Election Day.
Mayor Tom Menino, to the contrary, has repeatedly battled against the popular
tide, arguing that such restrictions punish the good kids along with the bad.
from the important civil liberties question, which led to a
curfews attempt to incapacitate kids at the very time of day when very few juvenile crimes occur anyway. According to time- of-day patterns of youth violence, fewer than 10 percent of robberies and assaults committed by juveniles occur between and
After , most teens - the good, the bad and the tired - are asleep. In effect, curfews essentially prohibit kids from committing crimes while asleep!
During this time of shrinking resources, it seems unwise to deploy police officers in the "graveyard shift" to watch for underage pedestrians and then escort them home or to the station. A greater bite of crime potentially comes from responding to trouble situations, not restless teens.
It is clear why many people find the concept so appealing. After all, most can agree that few youngsters have any business walking around the neighborhood at Of course, curfew or no curfew, those juveniles who are out misbehaving can and should be punished, but specifically for the misbehavior itself.
proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course, and the best evidence comes
from a 1999
Unfortunately, we tend to reject and ridicule positive steps like basketball yet embrace negative steps like curfews.
When it comes to our teenagers, we'd much prefer to say "no" than "yes." Perhaps instead we should re-explore ways to engage youth in healthy, structured pursuits - activities more appealing than wandering the streets, be it by day or by night.
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family
Professor of Criminal Justice at