Proponents of a New Haven juvenile curfew ordinance seem all too willing to put their faith in old cliches, but keeping the city’s kids out of sight and out of mind does little to solve the long-term problems that have prompted this suggestion.
We grant that with robberies making headlines and no decline in sight for the rate of crimes committed by New Haven minors — which consistently stands at roughly five times that of the national average — the idea behind a youth curfew can be tempting. A curfew seems relatively easy to enforce: If the police see a child out alone after a certain time, they simply bring him or her home, and presumably fine the parents a fixed amount — end of story. Even minimal enforcement may serve as a substantial deterrent, and in that case, city police would spend less time bringing kids home than they otherwise might in dealing with youth crimes.
But although many American cities impose some sort of curfew on minors, there is little evidence that such moves have actually reduced juvenile crime anywhere. In the past decade, ever since then-president Bill Clinton LAW ’73 threw his support behind a doomed federal curfew bill, a bevy of studies have found little to no correlation between existing city curfews and juvenile crime in those cities.
In particular, reports from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice contradict the positive claims put forward by lawmakers who passed those ordinances. And, statistical evidence aside, we see no reason to believe that the kids who are committing crimes will be particularly deterred by the threat of being sent home, or that crime cannot occur during daylight hours.
Regardless of efficacy, though, we oppose curfew measures on principle. By restricting freedom of movement for all of New Haven’s youth, such blanket laws punish the innocent along with the guilty. We see no reason why kids who have no desire or intent to commit crimes should be unable to go see a movie, play a game of midnight basketball or get a late-night snack without fear of detainment. While minors do have fewer freedoms than adults, the Constitutional right to freedom of movement should remain a fundamental one.
Curfew supporters have argued that such an ordinance is more of a motivator for parents. It would be no different, they suggest, than using city funds to subsidize organizations that encourage greater parental involvement in the lives of their children. But we believe the opposite to be true. In criminalizing independent youth activity past a certain hour, the city would only deny parents the freedom to trust that their children can behave responsibly without adult supervision.
There can be no comparison between such a restriction and the positive youth programs the city has recently implemented. We urge the Board of Aldermen to consider proposing greater funding for the Open Schools program and similar constructive initiatives, rather than giving the city’s kids legitimate cause for greater rebellion.