Sunday, November 26, 2006

Curfew Issues

Youth curfews will be a major issue brought before the City Council in the near future. The next council meeting will decide if there need to be changes to the night time curfew, and there will be discussion of a day time curfew at the January 23rd. meeting.

I have been doing a lot of research on this issue lately. Start at the NCJRS articles. Then look this California study, this 347 city study, and this report from the OJJDP. You will start to see a pattern emerge.

Curfews are not a general crime fighting tool. They can be effective in some situations when combined with other tools and programs. Even Local Government Code Sect 370.002 requires a review of a curfew to ensure it is still needed.

There are really only two reasons to have a juvenile curfew: To reduce juvenile crime, and to reduce the number of juveniles victimized by crimes. Laudable goals, but there are a number of things to keep in mind. Curfews compete with all the other law enforcement and public safety areas for resources. For this reason curfews tend to become weakly enforced. Night time curfews can frequently be justified because they do keep kids off the street during the highest crime, most dangerous hours of the day. Daytime curfews, on the other hand, tend to have little impact on actual crime rates. They frequently just change the times when the most crimes are committed.

I have heard the argument raised that school hour curfews are useful because kids should be in school. The problem is this argument mixes apples and oranges. There are already truancy laws and regulations to deal with deal with kids that skip school. There are also significant numbers of home schooled children whose hours won't always coincide with regular school hours. There is the special case of those suspended from school, but there is little to prevent an individual curfew from being part of a suspension when appropriate. If there is a problem with kids skipping school, enforce the existing laws.

I have a number of philosophical problems with juvenile curfews that aren't targeting a problem. Rights don't suddenly appear at a certain age. Some rights and privileges, such as driving and voting, should be reserved till a certain maturity is attained (I know, some drivers never get that mature.) It can be shown that they have to be a certain age before most people can drive safely on their own. You also don't teach responsibility to kids by just adding laws and rules. You want people to do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because of fear of what will frequently be seen as unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions. In those cases where a real public problem can't be shown to exist, people should not be unnecessarily burdened with laws no matter what their age.

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