3 Ways Cities Can Improve Curfews for Minors

In last Thursday’s post, we showed that curfew laws can have unintended consequences. Here are a few steps city leaders can take to ensure the safe and fair application of curfews for minors.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Sana Johnson. It is the second of two blog posts on curfew within a broader series on opportunities for municipal leadership in juvenile justice reform.

Curfew laws have serious unintended consequences, including disproportionate minority contact, the criminalization of homeless and runaway youth, worsening outcomes for kids and the exposure of cities to lawsuits for unconstitutionality. Local decision-makers should consider taking the following actions in order to ensure that their curfews protect rather than harm young people in their cities:

  1. Narrowly tailor the curfew ordinance to accomplish clearly defined objectives. Before drafting curfew ordinances, city leaders should develop a narrowly tailored purpose for the curfew. Local lawmakers can build exceptions or “defenses” into the law to ensure that the ordinance does not inappropriately refer young people to the juvenile justice system. In several cases, cities with narrowly tailored curfew laws experienced lower rates of juvenile arrests than cities with general curfew laws. Examples of narrowly tailored curfew ordinances included at least double the number of exceptions than vague curfew ordinances. While other differences in local laws and practice may also contribute to differences in arrest numbers, ambiguous curfew laws unnecessarily increase youth exposure to arrests.
  1. Expand the resources available to young people during curfew hours. Municipal leaders can protect homeless and runaway youth and close gaps in programming for young people by providing safe, positive environments during curfew hours. As a part of the effort to prevent youth criminalization and victimization, leaders in Minneapolis collaborated to establish the Juvenile Supervision Center (JSC). Located in city hall, the center provides a safe place for police to bring youth picked up for curfew violations, truancy and other low-level offenses. The JSC receives youth 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  1. Ensure fair treatment for all youth in your city’s juvenile justice system. Cities can reach better public safety and outcomes for youth by improving their juvenile justice systems. Municipal leaders can work with their police departments to develop alternatives to arrest for young people who violate curfew. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative offers city officials a variety of resources outlining how they can create a continuum of community-based alternatives to the juvenile justice system. Police training programs and objective screening tools empower cities to reduce disproportionate minority contact when enforcing curfew.

Although the evidence of curfew effectiveness remains scarce, city leaders can undoubtedly play a significant role to assure the responsible enforcement of these laws and protect the young people in their city.

sana_headshotAbout the Author: Sana Johnson is the 2015-2016 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.