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Monday, April 30, 2007

Should Yolo County have a Curfew for Minors?

The County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will have a seconding reading on a county ordinance that would set a curfew on Yolo County Juveniles. This after the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission heard the ordinance after the first reading and approved it--recommending that the curfew be set at 11:00 PM.

At first glance it sounds intuitive that you would not want juveniles hanging out after 11:00 PM. After all what kid should be out that late. However that intuitiveness begins to breakdown quickly. While an 11 pm curfew might make some sense on a school night, on the weekends that seems rather early for some older teens. Moreover, the question is who should determine the exact time that an older teen needs to be home and what is the goal of the ordinance. If the answer to last question is that it is a tool to reduce crime, we must ask where there is a sufficient drop in juvenile crime to warrant the intrusion of government into the private lives of parents and juveniles to such an extent that the government determines when a minor should be home rather than the parent.

There is some confusion as to whether this would apply to the entire county or if it would also apply to the cities. The City of Davis for instance does not have a curfew, although at one point the city looked into a curfew and decided that it would be problematic.

The problem of course with a curfew is that it would not merely affect minors. It would give law enforcement more tools to harass college aged students first by questioning whether they were a minor, if when they are doing nothing wrong. They could also potentially arrest people until they could prove that they were of age.

Others have expressed concerns that curfews would not prevent trouble but it would merely displace the trouble. Kids would simply move from areas of high visibility to law enforcement--where law enforcement would keep a watchful eye on them--to private residences where parents are not home and other places where law enforcement cannot keep a watchful eye on them.

So do curfews work? That is the key question here, for as I discovered with the issue of gang injunction, a lot of people will support policies that deprive people, even innocent people of their rights, if they believe it makes them safer.

It is interesting to note that the National League of Cities in 2006 took a survey of more than 200 cities with curfews and officials in 96 percent of those cities consider them either very or somewhat effective.

And yet actual statistical analysis paints a very different picture. Daniel Macallair from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice did a study on the impact of Juvenile Curfew Laws in California.

Here's his abstract:
In recent years cities and localities across the country have expanded the use of youth curfews to address growing public concern about juvenile crime and violence. By reducing the number of youths on the street during certain hours, curfews are assumed to lesson the number of circumstances in which youth crime can occur. It is also assumed that curfews reduce youth crime by deterring youths from being on the streets at certain hours out of fear of being arrested. Curfews have been widely-cited by policy makers as an effective tool for reducing youth crime. However, despite these assertions, virtually no comprehensive analysis of the effects of these laws has been completed. This study analyzes arrest data from jurisdictions throughout California. It is hypothesized that jurisdictions with strict curfew enforcement will experience lower overall, and serious crime arrests, than jurisdictions with less strict curfew enforcement. Also, because of their emphasis on youth curfew enforcement, jurisdictions with strict youth curfews will have accelerated rates of youth crime reduction in relation to adult crime trends.
His findings however suggest on the contrary:
"Statistical analysis provides no support for the proposition that stricter curfew enforcement reduces youth crime either absolutely or relative to adults, by location, by city, or by type of crime. Curfew enforcement generally had no discernible effect on youth crime. In those few instances in which a significant effect was found, it was more likely to be positive (that is, greater curfew enforcement was associated with higher rates of juvenile crime) than negative."
He concludes:
"The current available data provides no basis to the belief that curfew laws are an effective way for communities to prevent youth crime and keep young people safe. On virtually every measure, no discernible effect on juvenile crime was observed. In fact, in many jurisdictions serious juvenile crime increased at the very time officials were toting the crime reduction effects of strict curfew enforcement."
Officials are often supportive of curfews because they are apparently simple solutions that provide no additional financial resources to impose. They give law enforcement a simple tool that they believe can help them fight crime, simply get the troublemakers out of places where they can cause the trouble. But as we suggested above, juveniles are a bit more innovative than adults give them credit for being. So if they are not hanging out at the local hangouts, they'll find another place to hang out where they will be a lot less visible to law enforcement but perhaps just as troublesome.

Yolo County would be better off if law enforcement would spend their time and energy doing things to reduce crime rather than applying cosmetic bandages that according to most statistical research do not work.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting