Earl Manning, my life-long mentor, says, “Teen curfews are quite possibly the best thing ever. Teens are evil, corrupt beings and a curfew is all the world needs to cage up teen crime.” Though most of Earl’s wise teachings are true and insightful, on this subject he is terribly mistaken. Teen curfews are not the right solution to the problem of juvenile crime because they enroach on the rights of teens and parents, are ineffective, and there are much better solutions.
First of all, how can teen curfews be a good solution if they enroach on the rights of teens and their parents? Civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stand up for the rights of Americans as given to them by the Constitution of the United States. Teen curfews violate First Amendment rights, particularly the right to assemble. According the time line taken from “Milestones in Teen Curfews in the United States,” the courts agreed in 1989. U.S. District Judge Charles Richey blocked the implementation of a Washington DC curfew, essentially calling it unconstitutional. He said the ordinance would raise “serious constitutional claims” for teens.
Curfews’ constitutionality was again questioned in November 1995 when the ACLU filed a lawsuit in U.S. District court. Then again in July 2000 the rights of American teens prevailed when a federal district court judge found that Indiana’s 1945 curfew violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Advocates of juvenile rights and upholding the Constitution also make it clear that curfews invade on the rights of parents to raise their children. Laws exist to protect citizens, not suppress their basic freedoms as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
A primary reason curfews are not the right solution to the problem of juvenile crime is that they are not, have not been, and will not be effective. According to the article “Teen Curfews,” “146 of the nation’s 200 largest cities now enforce teen curfews,” yet “juvenile crime rates nationwide remain largely higher than in the past.” If teen curfews really are effective, then it would be assumed that there would be a decrease in the juvenile crime rate, or at least a maintenance of status quo. Statistics show that most juvenile crime occurs between the hours of 3 P.M. and 6 P.M. Thus it would be fruitless to enact curfews that do not attack the problem head on. As James Alan Fox, the dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, says, “The problem with curfew laws is that most kids, the good, the bad and the tired, are asleep at midnight.” Past curfews faced these same problems.
The time line shows that many cities had passed curfew laws by the 1980s, yet “the juvenile violent-crime rate… surges upward.” Then in the 1990s there was a resurgence of teen curfews to combat juvenile crime, but according to the article “the juvenile violent-crime rate.. has climbed [over the past four years], except in 1995,” when curfews met resistance from the ACLU. In June 1998, a study on the impact of curfews on juvenile crime in California, released by the Justice Policy Institute, finds that curfews are more a public relations gimmick than an effective crime-fighting tool.” The future of curfews looks equally grim and ineffective.
According to John DiIulio Jr., a leading crime expert, “The large population … will give rise to a new and more vicious group of predatory street criminals than the nation has ever known.” Arthur Spitzer, the legal director of the ACLU, says, “I find it very hard to believe that a curfew would have any significant effect on teenagers who are selling drugs, stealing cars or carrying a gun,” which DiIulio suggest is the future of American youth. In February 2000, “a survey released by the National League of Cities concludes that curfews … do little to reduce hard core gang activity.”
Lastly, there are better, more effective solutions than teen curfews. The conflict of teen curfews could be avoided all together if such actions were taken. The problem of juvenile crime should be stopped at its source, not nudged in the shoulder by curfews. There have been numerous attempts to combat juvenile crime through positive means and many have been successful. In 1936, the Police Athletic League (PAL) was founded in New York City. PAL worked effectively to give teens a positive alternative to juvenile crime. In 1953 Boys and Girls Clubs of America are established. These “offer social, educational, career and leadership programs to disadvantaged youths.”
In 1974 the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) which gave funds to states to take on juvenile crime. With more funding and proper management of funds, more programs could be created and those that exist could be expanded and improved. According to the article, “Many say that after-school programs and organized sports leagues work to reduce crime.” Alfred Blumstein, a leading criminologist, “says that curfews must be augmented by community centers.” However, teen curfews could be eliminated all together with the expansion of better, more effective solutions.
In conclusion, juvenile crime is a pressing matter that demands action. However, the rectification of the problem must not include teen curfews. Curfews infringe on the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and are ineffective. Other solutions are much better, more effective, and eliminate the need for curfews.