Study: Curfew Laws Reduce Juvenile Arrests

police-car-siren-stock-photo-2 Clay Duda/JJIE.orgA recently published study found youth curfews reduce juvenile arrests. The study, published in The American Law and Economics Review by the University of California, Berkeley, showed arrests of youths were directly impacted by curfews, dropping almost 15 percent in the curfew’s first year and 10 percent in the following years.

The report analyzed data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Unified Criminal Reporting files from 1980 to 2004 for 54 large U.S. cities (with populations more than 180,000) that enacted youth curfews between 1985 and 2002.

Arrests of young adults outside the curfew restriction also dropped suggesting fewer cross-age interactions, according to the study.

A survey in 1996, found 146 of the largest 200 U.S. cities had curfew laws on the books. Previous studies found little correlation between curfew laws and reductions in juvenile crime.

In Atlanta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, police have often ignored a long-standing curfew ordinance. But Mayor Kasim Reed announced in May police would once again enforce the law, fining parents of repeat curfew offenders with the possibility of 60 days in jail. Parents of a child caught violating curfew will receive a warning on the first offense.

The curfew in Atlanta means teens 16 and under cannot be out of their homes without adult supervision from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from midnight to 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

According to the AJC, with its penalties for parents, the Atlanta curfew law is one of the toughest in the Atlanta metro area. But the study in The American Law and Economics Review says parents are often the primary curfew enforcers and “municipal curfews act as focal point in the establishment of household policies.”

Photo by Clay Duda |

Wrong ideas: Curfews and Incarceration

Children are the future of any society. They are the product of human connection and are a true reflection of society’s investment in itself. Why, then, are some states in America embracing juvenile incarceration and curfews over humane and effective alternatives? Is America afraid of its youth population?

Nationwide, juvenile crime rates have been dropping. In California, according to Mike Males, Senior Research Fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, ever since reliable statistics have been kept youth been less prone to commit serious or petty crime.

The statewide data demonstrate that in the 1950s juvenile arrests totaled around 9 percent of the juvenile teenage population, including 1.3 percent for felonies. Fifty years later in 2010, juvenile arrests totaled just 4.4 percent of the teenage population, including 1.2 percent for felonies. He states, “never have California youth been more numerous, more racially diverse, or of recent immigrant origin. Never have youth been more uncurfewed, uncaged, and under-served.” Yet, despite all these conventional risk factors, juvenile crime rates have plummeted over the past several decades, and it is not due to incarceration-driven policies.

In fact, over the last 15 years, California’s youth prisons and local youth jails have released more than 10,000 formerly incarcerated youths onto the streets and in 2010, California youth crime stands at an all-time low.

An Annie E. Casey Foundation report points out “the data leaves little doubt. Substantially reducing juvenile incarceration rates has not proven to be a catalyst for more youth crime.” The report presents a fresh review of juvenile justice in America and makes future recommendations for improving the system. Among its findings, the report demonstrates that America’s youth prisons are dangerous, ineffective, unnecessary, obsolete, wasteful and inadequate. None more so than California’s ailing youth correctional facilities.

There are now only four facilities remaining in California’s broken state system, and one is scheduled to close by the end of the year. The state has been engaged in reform efforts since 2004, when it signed a consent decree pursuant to a lawsuit charging it with egregious conditions of care. This has driven the exorbitant cost of operating the facilities and yet very little progress has been made in way of reform. The latest audit, filed on Sept. 8, 2011, documented a lack of basic educational services for youths with special needs or in restrictive programs.

Many other states have recognized that the incarceration of youths is counterproductive public policy and have begun seeking alternatives. Benjamin Chambers authored a review in September 2011 documenting three strategies employed across at least 24 states in the country that are reducing state incarceration of young people. Illinois is planning to close a juvenile prison, and New York is reevaluating the age at which a young person can be sent to the adult system. It is now established that a law enforcement and corrections approach to juvenile delinquency is not appropriate.

Yet, amid these positive trends of de-incarcerating youth, an archaic policing contrivance is being resurrected across America. State and local governments have been reconsidering and enforcing teen curfew laws; a mechanism focused on policing the entire youth population.

In Atlanta officials announced intentions to enforce a longstanding teen curfew ordinance in June 2011, while Chicago and Cleveland Heights, Ohio passed curfew laws this year. Philadelphia tightened its existing curfew law in early August, 2011.

In Oakland, Calif. officials have been considering adopting a curfew, known as the Juvenile Protection Act, only to defer voting on the issue in early-October. However, according to the preponderance of research, including a 1998 CJCJ report, curfews do not work. In fact, research indicates, in the past 15 years, serious and violent juvenile crimes decreased far more in Oakland without a curfew than in Long Beach and other cities that impose them.

In today’s social climate, with juvenile crime rates at an all-time low and the majority of teenagers exhibiting exemplary law-abiding behavior, it seems that our streets are safer when there are more teens on them. Males observes that “not even in London during recent riots -- and certainly not in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto or other major cities -- do police forcibly sweep young people off the streets.”

Contrary to international norms, leading data-driven research, and well-established consensus in the field, some states continue to pursue law enforcement methods of addressing juvenile crime.  This is despite the fact that juvenile crime is waning.

California (and America at large) does not need to lock up its youth. It does not need to control their movements. It needs them on the streets (filling our public space with law-abiding citizens), in the community (going to school and gainfully employed), and engaging with American society; because regardless of how they are treated by the system, they are America’s future.


Cherie Miller On Keeping My Boys on the Straight and Narrow

I lived for almost 15 years in Wheaton, Ill., a wealthy suburb outside of Chicago. Within the city borders were five different colleges, therefore, city officials kept a very tight rein on teenagers. My sons, who went to high school with hair past their shoulders, often felt “targeted” by the high school police officers and the local cops patrolling our downtown.

Wheaton had very tight curfew laws. The Wheaton city code applied to anyone under the age of 17 requiring them to be home “from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights.” The state also had curfew laws that made parents responsible. My sons’ driving licenses “expired” after curfew, curtailing the amount of driving that was done by teens between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

I rarely had a problem with my three sons when we lived in Wheaton, but there was one night when my best laid plans to keep within the law went awry.

My son, Josh, at 16 wanted to attend a concert in downtown Chicago on a weekend. He and his friends hired a limo driver to bring them back to Wheaton after the show. Since they would get back after curfew, I assumed Josh would be dropped off by the limo driver at home. Of course, teens rarely think the same way parents do so he asked to be dropped off with his friend. They were hungry, so they visited the Taco Bell drive-thru before heading to our house. It was about 1:00 a.m. when a Wheaton police officer called me to tell me he had my son in custody for a curfew violation.

I was glad to be living in a town where my sons were under so much scrutiny. They knew someone was always watching them, if not me, the cop in the police cruiser at the Taco Bell. And my sons rarely got in trouble. Crime was low and my suburban streets felt safe, even when walking home at night from taking the Chicago Northwestern trains home from downtown Chicago.

Was my suburban experience typical? According to Patrick Kline, a researcher from the University of California-Berkley, “…curfews appear to have important effects on the criminal behavior of youth. The arrest data suggests that being subject to a curfew reduces the arrests of juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10 percent in the five years following enactment.”

I’m one parent who appreciated the governmental support to my role as a “good” parent. The police didn’t supplant my parental role of ensuring that my teenagers were home at a decent hour. But they did offer help.

Kline noted the role of parents in ensuring a safe community. In his study he said, “An alternative rationalization of the evidence is that parents play an important role in the enforcement of curfews over and above that of the police. If municipal curfews act as focal points in the establishment of household policies, a curfew with modest fines (and arrests) could lead to large changes in the behavior of youth. The potential role of parents in self-enforcement of curfews is an important area for future research.”

The Taco Bell lesson? My son learned if you’re going to be out after curfew, don’t get hungry. And, I learned as a single mom that it was great parental leverage to have the police officers watching my back by helping my sons to grow into decent human beings.

Cherie K. Miller lives on a lake in Georgia with her husband, Steve, and a blended family consisting of seven sons, two dogs, two geckos and a freakishly grumpy 17 year old cat. She is an author of three books. She and her husband have a nonprofit, Legacy Educational Resources that provides character education materials to school teachers, administrators and others who care about developing character in our young people. Contact her at

Atlanta Warns Parents About Their Kids’ Summer Curfew Violations

If it’s 11 p.m. on a weekday and you live in the city of Atlanta, you’d better know where your children are.

In an effort to keep kids safe over the long, hot summer, Mayor Kasim Reed and other city officials announced Tuesday that they plan to enforce the city’s long ignored curfew law.

The curfew law requires children 16 or younger to be at home and supervised by a parent, legal guardian or authorized adult from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

But the big change from previous enforcement threats came in the form of punishment threats  —  for parents. The first violation will result in a warning, city officials announced. A second violation may result in parents getting fined up to $1,000 and spending up to 60 days in jail or conducting community service.

“I want everyone in the city of Atlanta, especially our young people, to enjoy the summer months,” Reed said, with the city’s parks commissioner, police chief and MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott at his side. “At the same time, it is vital that we keep everyone safe. Our parks, pools and recreation centers are safe havens for kids where drugs and gang activity will not be tolerated.”

Along with curfew enforcement, the officials were unveiling a variety of measures as part of the city’s “Summer Safety Initiatives,” including:


  • Patrols of all city parks by uniformed officers 24 hours a day;
  • Visits by officers with parks and recreation managers at city park facilities;

• Checks of city pools by uniformed officers on patrol;

• Property crime details targeting problem areas;

• Distribution of literature for the city’s “See Something, Say Something” program, which encouraged city and county employees to report suspicious activity; and

• Referrals of youth to mentoring programs such as the Police Athletic League, Centers of Hope, Boys & Girls Club, etc.

But curfew enforcement raised the most questions. The city officials promised “curfew patrols at parks, movie theaters, skating rinks, apartment complexes and other places where youth gather; and curfew patrols in partnership with MARTA Police.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported today that then-Mayor Shirley Franklin announced promise of enforcement in 2009  --  except not with the threat to punish parents. And constitutional rights attorney Gerry Weber told the AJC that could leave the city open to federal court challenges.

“The imposition of criminal sanctions on the parents when the wrongdoing is done by the child, that kind of derivative liability has been frowned on by the courts,” he told the paper. “That is a challenge that the city is going to have to face if they try to enforce this.”


Part Five: A Day In Drug Court

Just joining us? This is part five of a five part series. Start from the beginning.

Cobb County, Ga’s., Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman’s office overflows every Wednesday at 4 p.m. For an hour, with therapists and probation officers filling every chair and – with several sitting on the floor – Stedman and her juvenile drug court team do a rundown of every kid currently in the program.

One by one, Stedman calls out the name of each of 30 or so kids. The assigned probation officer and counselor chime in, giving her an update on how the week had gone for the juvenile.

For these kids, failing a drug test, disregarding a curfew or skipping out on house arrest, most likely means the judge isn’t going to let them go home. More often than not, someone shows up on Wednesday night with one or both of their parents, and ends up being taken to the county Youth Detention Center here in suburban Atlanta.

For the most-addicted kids, or the ones with the most rebellious attitudes, a stint in YDC is fairly common. But it doesn’t take long for kids to realize that Stedman, who can be as compassionate and loving a woman as there is, isn’t one to be tested.

"Todd, why do you think I'm so upset with you?" Stedman asked one of the teenagers in a previous class.

"Because I smoked?"

"You smoked pot three days after I released you. Did you not think I looked serious?”

"Yes ma'am, you did."

And she was. Todd went back to jail that day.

Not everyone succeeds in drug court. And almost all of them will relapse at some point along their path to recovery.

Lynn Abney, a licensed professional counselor and part of the drug court team, said watching kids relapse is one of the hardest parts of the job for her and her teammates.

“I’d say more times than not, we expect relapse,” Abney said. “It’s an unfortunate part of the illness. But I’m a firm believer that even with a slip up, the kid is further along than he or she was at the last slip up. A lot of times, it’s two steps up and one step back. If someone is truly an addict, you at least hope that the time between relapses gets wider and wider. Sometimes it’s about managing relapses.”

Abney, and a handful of other counselors working the Cobb County juvenile drug court, make in-home family counseling visits with the kids – maybe weekly at first, then less often. But it’s a way for this to be more than just a justice or law enforcement program.

“To me, the No. 1 reason it is as effective as it is, is the accountability of the legal system and the clinical treatment of therapy,” she said. “It’s like treating someone with a major depressive episode – medicine is OK and therapy is OK. But medicine and therapy is the best, together. Our program is more successful than just incarcerating or just doing therapy.”

Not everyone who goes through the drug court will succeed. The grip of drugs and alcohol can sometimes prove to be too much.

“It’s tough,” Abney said. “Sometimes what you can do is not going to be enough. I think sometimes, we try too long with some families. We’ve seen tragedies where someone did not have long-term success. Still though, we believe that something that was done or said was helpful. It might not have saved them or prevented relapse, but we were planting a seed. If it didn’t help that kid, maybe it helped his brother, or his friend. Those are things we have to hang on to when we see things go bad.”

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