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'Our Juvenile Curfew is working.' (New Orleans, Louisiana, implements a Juvenile Curfew Law that involves the parents of curfew violators, and experiences a significant drop in crime)(Rethinking Public Safety)

When I took office in May 1994, New Orleans had an out-of-control crime problem. Children were dying, citizens did not feel safe in their own homes, the numbers were staggering. Crime had become too personal, and familiar. As mayor, I knew that I could not solve this enormous problem alone. The only effective solution was a community solution.

Our vision was to save our city and its future generations. It was in this spirit that we developed the idea for the Juvenile Curfew Law. Curfew hours are from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. They are applicable to those under the age of 17. The Curfew Center is operational during those curfew hours. Our plan was to implement a curfew as a parent would lay down a house rule. Our curfew holds both the juvenile and the parent accountable. Parents are required to pick up their children from the Curfew Center and participate in counseling sessions. Repeat offenders' parents are issued a court summons and could risk being fined for failure to keep their children from violating curfew.

This "forced responsibility" is working. After 60 days of implementation, juvenile crime during curfew hours had decreased by 38 percent. After 90 days, overall crime had dropped by 14.6 percent. The crimes most significantly affected were armed robbery (down 29 percent), auto theft (down 28 percent) and murder (down 26 percent) as compared with the summer of 1993.

This is not just another cold, calculating law that does more harm than good. When the law was written, every consideration was given to our children. Curfew violators are not taken to jail. Our Curfew Center is for juvenile curfew violators only, and the facility is freshly painted and brightly lit. The juvenile is checked in and taken to the Center's counseling area while the youth's parents are contacted. The objective is to open new lines of communication, begin a dialogue between the parent and child, and we hope, set new ground rules within the home. A 24-hour Curfew Hotline is available to answer questions about curfew policy and enforcement.

We have also constructed alternatives for young people by revitalizing the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD), expanding its programs by more than 300 percent. The number of NORD summer camps increased from 17 to 41, serving more than 10,000 youths. The number of swimming pools went from four to 14. We created 1,300 new summer jobs for youths and secured $1.8 million in federal grants for AmeriCorps and Youth Action Corps. We are not just saying "No" to our youth. We are re-creating dreams.

Some may say that we have overstepped the boundaries - that it is not our responsibility to become involved in personal family situations. I see it differently. The ultimate civil liberty is the right to be secure in our own homes, to feel safe on our streets, to have confidence that our children can go to school safely. If we do not step in and redirect our city and the families who live in it, then who will? We have taken every precaution to protect the legal, individual and constitutional rights of every citizen affected by the curfew regardless of age.

However, we will continue to defend our right to safety with every ounce of energy and spirit.

The statistics prove our curfew is working. This new law is keeping youths off the streets and out of trouble. It is helping families be more responsive to one another and more responsible to their communities.

We are fighting crime with aggressive visionary programs supported by the whole community. We know that the country is watching. Jurisdictions across America have written or called asking how they can implement a similar law. Each day brings proof that a unified community with a vision and the energy to work tirelessly can do anything.
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Author:Morial, Marc
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 30, 1995
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