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Curfew Chimera.

In their frenzied enactment of juvenile curfew ordinances over the past 10 years, U.S. cities have glided over a fairly obvious question: Do the laws actually work?

Although curfews have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, most investigative energy is devoted to constitutional issues. Of the few studies that do look into effectiveness, only four or five employ statistical analysis. The rest rely on anecdotes and opinions, but they have overshadowed the statistical studies--which uniformly suggest that curfews don't work.

Among the opinion-based studies is a 1997 survey conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Most of the 55 cities surveyed, it admits, "did not conduct a formal evaluation, but instead provided anecdotal evidence of the curfew's impact on crime rates." Most of the literature on curfew effectiveness is similarly deficient: Many studies report that crime has fallen during curfew hours, but ignore the displacement of crime to noncurfew hours--a shift documented in nearly every statistical study. Others do not account for the fact that juvenile crime has declined in curfew and noncurfew cities alike. Yet despite all these lacunae, the studies conclude that curfews reduce crime.

Local policymakers and the news media have lapped up the good news. They would do well to consult statistical studies such as "Do Juvenile Curfew Laws Work? A Time-Series Analysis of the New Orleans Law," in Justice Quarterly (Jan. 2000), and "An Analysis of Curfew Enforcement and Juvenile Crime in California," in Western Criminology Review (Sept. 1999). Contrary to all expectations, the authors of "Do Juvenile Curfew Laws Work?"-- Mike Reynolds, Ruth Seydlitz, and Pamela Jenkins--found that "victimizations, juvenile victimizations, and juvenile arrests during curfew hours did not decrease significantly [ldots] [and] some victimizations during non-curfew hours increased significantly." Mike Males and Dan Macallair reached an equally negative conclusion in their Western Criminology Review article: "Curfew enforcement generally has no discernible effect on youth crime." Other statistical studies bear out these scholars' findings.

These studies have done nothing to dampen enthusiasm for curfews. The 1990s witnessed a boom in curfew legislation unrivaled since the 1890s. In 1990, less than half of the 200 largest cities in America had curfews. By last year, 80 percent did.

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Publication:The Wilson Quarterly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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