We have curfews? What are they?

Curfews usually exist only in times of national emergency or military occupation. On June 14, 1940 when the Germans occupied Paris they imposed an 8 o’clock curfew. The United States puts a new twist on this familiar concept by setting curfews during times of peace for all young people under a certain age. Curfew laws are often set by a city or a state and make it illegal for a person underage to be outside during certain times. For example in the state of Michigan it is illegal for a person under 16 to be out in public between the hours of 12 and 6 AM. Cities within the state often impose curfew laws with stricter requirements than the state.

What are penalties for breaking curfew?

That depends on the law; each one is different. In some cases the police will simply give a warning, others will make the youth return home, in other cases there may be a fine or jail time involved. For example, in St. Louis, MO curfew violators face up to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail. In some cases parents face penalties when their children are out past curfew as well. In St. Louis if a young person has been picked up for curfew and taken to the police station the parents must pick him or her up from the station within 45 minutes or face penalties of up to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail.1

What are daytime curfews?

In addition to laws that make it a crime to be outside at night, there are also laws that make it a crime to be out during the day. Usually during school hours. The city of Los Angeles has a curfew making it illegal for anyone under 18 in school to be in public between the hours of 8:30 AM and 1:30 PM. 2

Does my city have a curfew?

Possibly, youth curfews are spreading in cities and states all across the country. Please visit this list to see if you are included. Due to the rapid expansion of curfew laws in the last few years, our list may not be complete, but it’s the best we’ve seen. You can help add to our list by providing us information on your cities’ curfew law.

Do curfews cut down on youth crime?

No. Supporters of youth curfews cite only anecdotal and incidental data; the only true study on the effectiveness of youth curfews at reducing crime showed it had no effect. Researchers Mike A. Males and Dan McAllister said, “Statistical analysis does not support the claim that curfew and other status enforcement reduces any type of juvenile crime, either on an absolute (raw) basis or relative to adult crime rates. The consistency of results of these three different kinds of analysis of curfew laws point to the ineffectiveness of these measures in reducing youth crime.”3 In fact curfew laws may even lead to increased crime: “The current available data provides no basis to the belief that curfew laws are an effective way for communities to prevent youth crime and keep young people safe. On virtually every measure, no discernable effect on juvenile crime was observed. In fact, in many jurisdictions serious juvenile crime increased at the very time officials were toting the crime reduction effects of strict curfew enforcement.”3

Lets think about this rationally. Curfew laws are intended to stop young people from committing crimes by making them stay inside. If a person intends to commit a crime by stealing a car, vandalizing a home, or deal drugs why would they have any respect for another law that made it illegal to be outside? Aren’t laws against auto-theft, property damage, and drug dealing enough?

Curfews don’t affect crime and only hurt innocent youth, repeal them.

Should 5 year olds be free to roam the street at 4 in the morning?

That’s a family decision. Parents should be able to set curfews, not government. Parents know their children far better than an impersonal law, and should be given the discretion to parent.

If curfew laws are repealed, kids will be more likely to defy their parent’s curfews, seeing that the government no longer is concerned about this issue, right?

There are no laws against yelling in the house, running with scissors or pulling hair but parents manage to handle these issues just fine. Why do parents need police to back them up when setting curfews? As the experience of Prince George’s county Maryland shows, often parents don’t even know about the curfew law, “despite a number of public service announcements and the distribution of 40,000 brochures to middle- and high-school students to educate them about the curfew, awareness of the curfew is not universal among parents — only three in four parents of teenagers knew of it.” 4

Don’t curfew laws help the police fight crime?

Police are split on this issue. The creation of a substantially broad crime to allow the ability to stop and question all individuals under a certain age is a tool for police, and a way to get around individual rights. Many other officers however feel curfew laws create a drain on police time and resources, forcing them not only to serve and protect, but also to parent. With murderers and rapists loose on the street, making sure Billy isn’t out to late should not be a police priority.

Are curfews racist?

Not inherently, but usually they turn out to be. Curfew laws give a great amount of discretion to police officers, which for reasons we won’t get into here, often leads to racist enforcement of curfew laws. Curfew laws are heavily enforced in black neighborhoods, but not as much in white neighborhoods. Likewise white youth are less likely to be stopped by police than black youth. Because of this, the rate of arrest for blacks in 2000 was 71% higher than that for whites. 5

Curfew hours target the period of highest youth crime, right?

No, nighttime and daytime curfews don’t cover the stretch of time most juvenile crime occurs – the afternoon. According to the FBI “Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are most at risk of committing violent acts and being victims between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.”6 These are times that no curfew laws cover.

Curfews only exist in places with high rates of juvenile crime, curfew laws aren’t introduced baselessly, right?

Wrong. In response to a grisly string of murders in Manning, South Carolina, the city council proposed a youth curfew in response.7 The problem however was the criminal suspect was 37-years-old and the proposed youth curfew would have had no effect whatsoever on the murders that shocked this small town. The experience of Manning is not unusual. Communities choose to enact curfew laws that have no problems with youth crime whatsoever. In fact except for the elderly, juvenile crime makes up the lowest proportion of crime altogether.8 So if adults commit 75-90% of all crime, where is the urgent need for curfew laws to protect society from violent youth?

Don’t curfew laws protect young people from being victimized by criminals; shouldn’t youth be glad such laws protect them?

If young people were concerned about violent criminals they would stay inside voluntarily, no law would be needed. This line of reasoning is only correct if applied to all people at risk of being attacked by criminals. Of course all people are at risk of crime, if protecting innocent people from crime were a legitimate concern then all people regardless of age would clamor for, and accept curfews governing their lives. Would a requirement that all U.S. residents be inside by 11 pm free the country of all crime?

Are curfew laws unconstitutional?

There have been many court challenges to curfew laws around the nation and so far courts are split on this issue. With no US Supreme Court ruling on the issue, there is no easy answer to offer. In general, lower courts recognize that curfews impose restrictions to the 1st Amendment right of free speech, and have struck down many laws that impose too heavy a burden on the exercise of youth’s free speech rights. These same courts will often uphold curfew laws once exceptions have been written to allow for political protests. The narrow interpretation of 1st Amendment rights is a tragedy and ultimately ignores the more pressing liberty rights at issue.

Curfew laws are also deemed to be constitutional if they serve a compelling state interest, in this case the reduction of juvenile crime. However as no study has shown curfews in fact reduce crime this assertion is false. With no compelling state interest, NYRA strongly asserts curfew laws are unconstitutional and must be struck down.

Curfew laws often have exceptions if the person is coming home from work, or in an emergency what else would a youth want to be out at night for?

In a free country it is not our place to decide what is appropriate for our neighbor to do or not do. Freedom doesn’t require proof to justify one’s decisions. If a teen wants to take a stroll and gaze at the moon, that’s her decision. If a teen feels its too hot during the day and prefers jogging at night or early in the morning, that’s his decision. If a teen wants to go to the park and count blades of grass at 3 in the morning, from what harm do we suffer? Freedom is not the result of exceptions to the law; the laws are the exceptions to freedom.

What can I do to help fight curfews?

We’re glad you asked. NYRA has provided for you a resource with lots of information on what you can do to fight curfews in your area. Print out stickers, start a NYRA chapter, hold a protest, and of course let the media know. Check out NYRA’s anti-curfew action site to start a campaign against your curfew. Since NYRA is one of the top organizations fighting curfews, joining the organization is a good step against curfews. Join here.