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Will It Reduce Crime?

Hartford Courant Editorial

August 13, 2008

A nighttime curfew for teens wouldn't have stopped some of the shootings in Hartford last weekend that killed one man and injured 10 others, including a 7-year-old boy who is in serious condition. They took place in broad daylight.

But the mayor and police chief are imposing a 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew on teenagers in the hope of curbing a surge of violence. The curfew applies to kids under 18 without an adult accompanying them; it starts Thursday and runs for 30 days. Violators are taken to a location where their parents can pick them up.

Teen curfews may make city residents and visitors feel safer, but there's little proof that they work.

The mayor's office says the curfew isn't city hall's first choice; it's just one of many steps the city is taking to reduce gun violence and get kids out of harm's way, says spokeswoman Sarah Barr. That's good because the other steps are likely to work better.

A decade ago, the Justice Policy Institute looked at a dozen counties in California and found no correlation between their curfews and drops in juvenile crime. If anything, curfews increased crime, the institute said. Police spent so much time rounding up young violators that they missed the serious criminals who were burgling houses.

Teenage curfews are also frowned upon in some legal circles. The federal appeals court for Connecticut struck down a nighttime curfew for juveniles in Vernon in 2003. Juveniles, like adults, do have a right to "walk the streets, move about at will and leave their houses when they please" with parental consent, of course. To make its case for a curfew, Vernon needed to show evidence that it would reduce juvenile crime, the court said. The town didn't produce that evidence.

The truth is that kids shouldn't be out at 2 a.m. unless they're learning astronomy. But crime experts say most juvenile crime takes place in the afternoon, not at night. (Two of last weekend's three shootings came before 9 p.m.)

Hartford may be different: Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts says the city has a lot of juvenile incidents at night. We'll be happy if the curfew does succeed in stopping the violence. But the evidence suggests that it will work only if it's imposed on adults the group that, experts say, is more likely to commit crimes in the dead of night.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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