Monday, August 15, 2016

Why It Should Be Lights Out on Teen Curfew Laws

Curfews have existed since the ninth century. By the time we reached the middle of the twentieth century, many cities in the United States instituted youth curfew laws, and became even more popular during the Clinton administration. The main reason for these teen curfew laws is safety. Teen curfew laws are supposed to deter disorderly behavior, such as vandalism, shootings, and property crime. However, they come with their drawbacks. For one, the laws are unenforceable. Even if they were enforceable, would we want the government trying to verify the whereabouts and age of every juvenile out on curfew? Curfew laws don't just limit juveniles, but also parents' rights the government is telling parents that they know what's best for their children.  Sure, if we keep teenagers locked at home, the probability of being stolen from, kidnapped, robbed, or even committing crimes is infinitesimally small. However, if we want child security to be above all else, we should just mandate permanent house arrest. Even if we aren't willing to go that far, there is still the issue of giving up liberty for security. And here's an equally important question: do these curfew laws even work? While the research on this topic seems to be limited, the short answer to this questions is "not so much."

  • A 2003 meta-study found that juvenile crime and victimization remains unchanged after the implementation of curfew laws, as did a 2016 study (Wilson et al., 2016). 
  • Five years ago, Politifact found that these curfew laws are not effective because the curfew laws presuppose that all teens are equally likely to commit a crime, i.e., it's a poorly targeted policy. 
  • An 18-year analysis of 21 cities in California found that the curfew laws are ineffective or worse (Males and Maccalair, 1999).
  • A study that was supposed to affirm that curfew laws work inadvertently found that criminal arrests of teenagers fell more quickly across the country than they did in cities that enforce their curfew laws (Kline, 2011).
  • A 2012 meta-study found that teen curfew laws do not have any positive effect on decreasing crime and increasing public safety (Adams, 2012).
  • A working paper found that curfew laws actually increase gun incidents (Carr and Doleac, 2015).
As the Brookings Institution brought up in an article last year, the evidence in favor of these curfew laws is lacking. At best, there is no measurable, positive effect on juvenile crime, which means that there is no real reason to keep these laws on the book. Let's repeal these laws. If we want to address juvenile crime, let's find targeted policies that can actually lower crime rates instead of rallying around feel-good policy. 

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