Do juvenile curfews in US cities quell gun violence? Evidence is shaky

Do juvenile curfews in US cities quell gun violence? Evidence is shaky


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Juvenile curfews are returning to some of America’s largest cities as local leaders explore ways to curb gun violence.

Leaders in both Philadelphia and Chicago, in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in their cities, are among those who have pushed proposals to impose more stringent curfew ordinances to limit juvenile victimization and involvement rates. The efforts were approved in both cities but experts say juvenile curfews have historically proven ineffective and often come with unintended consequences. 

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency said curfews “unnecessarily funnels large numbers of nondelinquent youth into a criminal justice system that is already inundated with alleged offenders,” according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

The curfews have also disproportionately impacted juveniles in minority communities, with Black youths facing higher rates of curfew and loitering arrests than white teens, according to data collected by the OJJD.   

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As a series of high profile shootings rippled through the country in recent months, local politicians are not the only ones searching for solutions. 

Weeks after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Congress managed to pass the a bipartisan gun bill that will strengthen federal gun laws – making it one of the most significant gun control legislation in almost 30 years. 

While the bill lacked stricter measures backed by Democrats, the legislation will enhance background checks on individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 and will eliminate the “boyfriend loophole,” by adding dating partners to the list of domestic abusers not allowed to buy firearms. 

The curfews join gun-reform efforts as another “tool in the toolbox” to combat violence, local officials say. Here’s a look at how they’ve worked in some cities around the U.S.

Austin

The curfew: Established in 1991, the city’s curfew limited children 17 and under from being out in public from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the school year. Children violating the curfew risked being charged with a Class C misdemeanor, a category which also includes traffic offenses and disorderly conduct.

The city ended its juvenile curfew in 2017, citing insufficient evidence that a curfew decreased juvenile crime and victimization.

What experts are saying: Austin’s ordinance did more harm to those found violating the curfew than it did to help them, according to Brett Merfish, the director of youth justice at Texas Appleseed.

“If you automatically start ticketing them, you miss all the reasons that you could be helping them,” Merfish said. “Instead, you’re sending them to court, giving them, a criminal record and it doesn’t really help them…that kind of justice system contact is actually harmful.”

Merfish also noted that the ordinance had unintended consequences on the community, including disproportionately affecting boys and children of color.  

Boys accounted for 69% of all tickets issued by the city’s police department for violating the curfew ordinance, and 17% of tickets in 2016 were issued to Black children despite only making up 8% of the city’s youth population, according to a report on the city’s curfew by Texas Appleseed with data from the Austin Police Department and Municipal court.

Chicago

The curfew:  Chicago updated their juvenile curfew following the death of 16-year-old Seandell Holliday who was shot in Millennium Park in May. The new ordinance extended the curfew to cover 17 year olds (the age range was previously 12-16) and moved the curfew up an hour, from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also imposed an additional 6 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied minors in Millennium Park from Thursday through Sunday.

During a press conference in May, Lightfoot attributed the increased downtown shootings to the accessibility minors have to guns.

Chicago’s juvenile curfew has been in place since 1992.

What experts are saying: Community members and local organizations have opposed the changes, saying they are concerned the expanded curfew will increase discrimination and community mistrust of police while not properly addressing the issues.

Vondale Singleton, the founder of CHAMPs Male Mentoring Program in Chicago, was among those critical of mayor and council’s decision to pass the updated curfew ordinance.

“It’s not so much the curfew is bad. It’s just you don’t get the buy in when you don’t involve who the curfew impacts and effects,” Singleton said. “Just because you say there’s a curfew, it’s not going to produce change.”

Singleton and other advocates have called for preventive measures, including mentoring and other community-based programs, as solutions to address the rising rates of crime and violence in the city.

“The community knows the community better than anybody in the city. City officials are not coming to the community like we are. So, we know what works,” Singleton added. “I think we have to be able to scale (up) … programs that are community based and already effective and just help sustain those types of programs.”

Philadelphia

The curfew: Under Philadelphia’s ordinance, children have varying curfew times based on their specific age. Children 13 and younger have a curfew of 9:30 p.m., those ages 14 and 15 have a curfew of 10 p.m. while minors 16 and older have a curfew of midnight.

The curfew ends at 6 a.m. for all minors unless they are with a guardian, running an errand authorized by a guardian or performing activity related to work.

Council member Katherine Gilmore Richardson introduced a bill early June that would change the midnight curfew to 10 p.m. for the summer. The changes will remain in place through Sept. 29.

What experts are saying: In a 2016 systematic review of 12 studies examining the impacts of juvenile curfews, the Campbell Collation found that there was no evidence to show that they were effective in reducing crime.

“I think there’s this assumption a lot of people make, that if you are out at that time a night, they’re probably up to no good. And the evidence doesn’t support that,” David Wilson, who led the Campbell Collation review, said.

But Gilmore Richardson, the council member pushing Philadelphia’s change, said local leaders felt they had to do something. 

“People will be mad if you do, and they will be mad if you don’t,” Gilmore Richardson said in a tweet about imposing a curfew. “However, enough is enough. We are losing an entire generation to senseless acts of gun violence and we must utilize every tool in our tool box to save the lives of our young people.”

Washington, D.C.

The curfew: Individuals under the age of 17 have a curfew of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sunday through Thursday and from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. During July and August, the curfew is in place from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. each day.

The law outlines that kids who violate the curfew will be detained by the Metropolitan Police Department and then released to the child’s guardian. Adults could also face consequences if they allow a child out past the curfew, according to the city’s code.

The curfew is aimed to “protect the welfare of minors” by trying to reduce the chance that children will be victims of crimes as well as participate in them during the curfew hours established by the city council.

What experts are saying: A 2017 study looked at the city’s 27-year-old curfew, comparing gun activity using ShotSpotter data and found that while the number of reported gunshots decreased, the number of gunshots actually increased.

“What looks like a reduction in calls to report gunshots – it was like a 22% effect on that – but when we actually look at the number of shots fired, we see an increase and that sort of wedge is something that is really important and really relevant right now,” to Jillian Carr, the study’s coauthor, said. “It’s sort of an important cautionary note for cities that implement this.”

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