Juvenile crime has long been a major issue of concern in the United States, with fears that it escalating out of control being stroked by extensive media coverage in the 1990s, spurring the perception of a crime epidemic (Torbet and Szymanski, 1998). Many cities adopted juvenile curfew laws as a reactionary measure to rising youth crime levels, which began in the late 19080s, peaked in 1994 and has declined since then (Snyder 1998; Snyder, 2000).
However, this decrease in juvenile crime since the period of paranoia does not equates to it no longer being a problem. Currently, the Mayor of Rochester, New York, is contemplating the implementation of juvenile curfew laws in an attempt to clamp down on juvenile crime. In the consideration of whether to implement curfew law state-wide, the 2 most important issues which the Mayor has to take into account and consider are: 1. Are curfew laws an effective means of combating juvenile crime? 2. Are curfew laws a constitutional means of combating juvenile crime?
We shall first consider the first factor, evaluating past studies and statistical data in order to reach a conclusion regarding the effectiveness of curfew laws in combating juvenile crime. Our main source of reference will be a study on the effect of the Washington, D. C “Juvenile Curfew Act of 1995”. The main argument for the effectiveness of juvenile curfew laws in reducing youth crime has it’s basis in opportunity theory. The argument is as follows: crime is possible because there is an availability of opportunities to commit them.
Curfew law remove these opportunities by requiring juveniles to remain at home during the restricted hours (usually evening and nights), and decreasing the amount of time spent with delinquent peers, without parental supervision. Therefore, curfew law reduces juvenile crimes. On the surface, this theory is appealing and elegant. It offers a clear problem, a clear approach and a clear solution. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a survey done by the US Conference of Mayors, it was found that the officials in 88% of the cities with curfew laws believed that they helped reduce juvenile crime.
However, like all theories, only empirical evidence and statistics can validate its plausibility and relevance. And in this respect, opportunity theory in this context is sorely lacking. There is a general unwillingness to prove the effectiveness of curfew laws using formal statistical analysis, and most studies that are cited by proponents of juvenile curfew laws are based on anecdotal evidence and can be hardly considered authoritative or accurate. Danny Cole of Maryland University analysis of the effects of a curfew law on juvenile crime in Washington, D.
C was published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice in the spring of 2003, Vol 27, Issue 2, page 217. Being peer reviewed an published by a journal makes it as credible as most scholarly studies come, and thus we can regard this as an accurate and authoritative study. And the conclusion of Danny Cole is that curfew law does not have an impact on the reduction of juvenile crime arrests. The fully study can be found in the “Works Cited” of this paper. Cole also writes that curfew laws have several inherent flaws:
1. Most curfew laws do not apply to all juveniles and does not includes the entire juvenile population, hence a significant proportion of juvenile crimes are not targeted 2. Juvenile curfew laws target the incorrect time period in which most juvenile crimes are assumed to be committed; 3. Juvenile curfew laws might not be uniformly enforced; Other more technical factors are also discussed which can be found in the main study. We then conclude that juvenile curfew laws are ineffective in the reduction of juvenile crime.
We now approach the issue of constitutionality. Firstly, do juvenile have constitutional rights similar to adults? The answer is yes, as the Supreme Court has ruled in many instances that people have full constitutional rights regardless of age. From Missouri v. Danforth case in 1976, the court stated that (U. S. Supreme Court planned parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth): Constitutional rights do not mature and come into being magically only when one attains the state-defined age of majority
Most curfew laws directly remove the right to assemble in public and in some cases, private grounds. This directly violates the First Amendment which guarantees the right of freedom of speech and assembly, which in turn is also guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Hence it follows that if juvenile have full constitutional rights and thus are protected by both the First and 14th Amendment, then any law which violates their right to freedom of speech and assembly also violates their constitutional rights.
Hence I conclude that curfew laws are not constitutional. Since curfew laws are neither effective nor constitutional, the Mayor of Rochester, New York, should not implement them.
Snyder, H. N. (1998). Juvenile arrests 1997. Juvenile Justice Bulletin (December), 1-11. Snyder, H. N. (2000). Juvenile arrests 1999. Juvenile Justice Bulletin (December), 1-12. Torbet, P. , & Szymanski, L. (1998). State legislative responses to violent juvenile crime: 1996-1997 update. Juvenile Justice Bulletin (November), 1-15.