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arrowAre curfews the solution?
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Are curfews an effective way of keeping youngsters out of trouble?
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On the spot fines for rowdy behaviour are likely to be effective
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arrowMore on the survey
arrowMonrovia Police Department
arrowJustice Policy Institute: The Impact of Juvenile Curfew Laws in California
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Joseph Santoro
Joseph Santoro believes curfews work

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  "When we prevent them [young people] from failing in school and becoming criminals, and at the same time reduce crime in our communities, we win."
Quotation marks
Joseph Santoro, Monrovia Police Chief

Dan Macallair
Dan Macallair says curfews are not the answer

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  "What we found was that there was virtually no difference between cities that had curfews and cities that didn't have curfews… If you do the analysis, the claims about curfews simply don't hold up."
Quotation marks
Dan Macallair, Justice Policy Institute

US kids
Curfews are designed to keep children in school and out of trouble
California curfew

Talk about curfews for delinquent teenagers, and most people think of ways to keep them off the streets at night, at home and out of trouble. But the Southern Californian community of Monrovia (pop. 40,000) decided to approach the problem of juvenile offending in a different way.

A daytime curfew was implemented, requiring all youngsters of school age to stay off the streets during normal school hours. Any youngster caught in a public place when they should have been in class was issued with a ticket – like a traffic violation - requiring them to appear in juvenile court.

Unless they had a good excuse, they were faced with a choice: paying a $135 fine, or agreeing to perform 27 hours of community service. Almost all the truants chose the latter. Being caught did not result in anyone receiving a criminal record.

Monrovia’s police chief, Joseph Santoro, says the aim was simple: to stop children dropping out of school and getting into drugs, gangs and crime. "When this occurs, we all lose," he says. "When we prevent them from failing in school and becoming criminals, and at the same time reduce crime in our communities, we win."

Audio iconAudio: “We’ve seen a 40% drop in daytime crime,” Joseph Santoro, Monrovia Police Chief   Real 28K

The city claims that over the past three years, the curfew has contributed to a 39% reduction in truancy, and a 29% drop in crime during school hours. It is a "zero tolerance" approach to youth crime that has been adopted by many other cities across the United States.

The benefits claimed for daytime curfews include safer streets, a reduction in gang warfare, and fewer daytime burglaries. But Monrovia’s pioneering approach has provoked controversy. The city had to fight off a legal challenge from opponents of the scheme, who claimed it was unconstitutional.

There is also a dispute about whether the curfew has actually reduced crime. According to a study for the Justice Policy Institute, the public policy arm of the US Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, youth crime was relatively low until the curfew came into force. From that point, the level of juvenile offending increased, along with the number of students arrested for breaking the curfew.

If a daytime curfew caused a drop in juvenile crime between September and June, you might expect an increase in offending during July and August, when schools were closed and youngsters were on the streets. But researchers found the opposite to be true. They reported that youth crime declined by 12 per cent in the summer months, and rose by 53% during the school year, when the curfew was in force.

AudioVideo: “The claims about curfews simply don’t hold up” Dan Macallair, Justice Policy Institute   Real 56K

They noted that black, Hispanic and Asian youths were far more likely to be cited for breaking the curfew than white students – a discrepancy that could not be explained either by population statistics or their actual involvement in crime. The researchers concluded that the daytime curfew was a negative approach to juvenile crime, particularly towards non-white youths. There was, they said, nothing to indicate it had contributed to a decline in crime – in fact there was evidence of an association with a sharp increase in youth crime during school months.

However civic leaders in Monrovia are not impressed. Police chief Joseph Santoro says the researchers made the mistake of assuming that the number of juvenile arrests is an accurate measure of juvenile crime.

"We changed our enforcement priorities," he says. "Instead of driving past students who were on the streets during school hours, the department instructed officers to stop and ask why they were not in school. This resulted in more contact with students who were discovered to be truant, and on occasion involved in gang activity and crime. It does not mean there is new crime, but instead, officers discovered existing crime."

Monrovia points to a study by the United States Conference of Mayors, in 1997, which surveyed 72 cities across the nation with daytime curfews. Eighty-eight percent of the cities said curfew enforcement helped to make streets safer for residents, while 83% felt that curfews helped curb gang violence.

Every one of 72 cities reported that curfews cut down truancy and reduced daytime burglaries, by keeping children in school, and holding their parents accountable.

But Dan Macallair, of the Justice Policy Institute, says that the survey of teenage curfews in California demonstrates that they are not the answer to juvenile offending. "What we found was that there was virtually no difference between cities that had curfews and cities that didn’t have curfews," he says. "Curfews have more to do with symbolic politics than rational policy. If you do the analysis, the claims about curfews simply don’t hold up, suggesting it is done more for political purposes than for good public policy.

"Essentially what we need are more things for kids to do. Kids are bored. There are not enough services for kids, there are not enough resources for kids, and most importantly there aren’t enough recreational activities for kids.

"So in the absence of all that, what are kids going to do? Well, they’re going to be hanging out on the street corner, and they may get into activities that we would prefer them not to get into."

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