Curfews for young people have existed off and on since the 1890s, when curfews were enacted to curb crime among immigrant youths. States and cities tend to pass curfew ordinances when citizens perceive a need to maintain more control over juveniles. Because of the rising juvenile crime rates in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than 1,000 jurisdictions across the United States imposed youth curfews. Most curfew laws restrict juveniles to their homes or property between the hours of 11 P.M. and 6 A.M. weekdays, allowing them to stay out later on weekends. The laws allow exceptions for young people going to and from school, church events, or work and for those who have a family emergency or are accompanied by their parents.
Critics of curfew ordinances argue that they violate the constitutional rights of children and parents. First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, they argue, are endangered by curfew laws—especially the rights of free speech and association, privacy, and equal protection. The critics also argue that no studies have proven the effectiveness of curfew laws. In 1994 the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling (Qutb v. Bartlett, F.3rd 488, 62 LW 2343, Rev. 1994) that a Dallas, Texas, curfew law was constitutional.
Are Curfews Successful in Reducing Crime?
Although no statistical studies have concentrated on the effectiveness of curfews, many cities reported declines in juvenile crime and victimization after establishing curfews. John Pionke, a U.S. Conference of Mayors researcher, noted in 1997 that a number of cities showed a 30 to 50 percent decline in juvenile crime over a period of a year after instituting curfews. The Dallas Police Department recorded an 18 percent decline in juvenile victimization and a 15 percent decline in juvenile arrests during curfew hours. New Orleans, Louisiana and Long Beach, California also reported significant decreases. However,
Adjudicated delinquency cases by disposition, 1985–2000
Long Beach and several other cities found that, to some extent, the crime rates had been "displaced"—that is, more juvenile crime was occurring in the non-curfew hours. Some observers argue that reduction figures are politically motivated by city officials to justify the curfew and that more studies of the information are needed.
To be successful, curfews need sustained enforcement and community support and involvement. Other factors for success include creating recreational, educational, and job opportunities for juveniles, building anti-drug and anti-gang programs, and providing hotlines for community questions or problems.