Implementing Juvenile Curfew Programs

Article excerpt

Besides meaning "the sounding of a bell at evening," the word curfew also denotes "a regulation enjoining the withdrawal of usually specified persons (as juveniles or military personnel) from the streets or the closing of business establishments or places of assembly at a stated hour." [2] The latter application has begun to appear ever increasingly in research studies and articles as a way to stem juvenile crime and victimization.

For over a century, American communities have imposed curfews at various times in an effort to maintain social order. For example, curfews first appeared during the 1890s in large urban areas to decrease crime among immigrant youth. During World War II, many communities again turned to curfews as a method of control for parents busily engaged in the war effort. More recent interest in curfews occurred as a response to the increase in juvenile crime and gang activity during the 1970s. [3]

Today, lawmakers, government leaders, social scientists, and law enforcement authorities have begun to examine the legalities, planning, effects, and benefits of juvenile curfews. Most believe that any law that may decrease the number of juveniles involved in illegal activities and possibly reduce the crimes perpetrated against juveniles would benefit their communities. Although critics have voiced concerns about infringing on the rights of juveniles and their parents, as well as the effectiveness of curfews on crime rates, many communities have found curfews beneficial. [4]

THE CHARLOTTESVILLE EXPERIENCE

Located about 70 miles northwest of Richmond in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville, Virginia, encompasses over 10 square miles and has a population of nearly 40,000 residents. Although the community had experienced relatively little juvenile violence, the city decided to adopt a curfew more as a preventive measure to protect its children from harmful influences, such as drug abuse and gang involvement, and to promote healthy behavior, rather than as a response to an increase in juvenile crime. Complaints of young people riding bicycles or loitering on the streets at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning prompted the city council, the police department, and concerned community members to find a way not only to protect these youngsters but also to help parents enforce their own curfew rules.

After several months of study and deliberation, the Charlottesville City Council enacted a juvenile curfew on December 16, l996. [5] The city council designed the curfew ordinance--

* to promote the general welfare and protect the general public through the reduction of juvenile violence and crime within the city;

* to promote the safety and well-being of the city's youngest citizens, persons under the age of 17, whose inexperience renders them particularly vulnerable to becoming participants in unlawful activities, especially unlawful drug activities, and to being victimized by older perpetrators of crime; and

* to foster and strengthen parental responsibility for children. [6]

With these basic tenets in mind, the Charlottesville Police Department examined other communities with positive curfew experiences and learned the importance of the three main factors that go into making successful curfew programs: community acceptance, consistent enforcement practices, and accurate record keeping.

Community Acceptance

First and foremost, community members must accept the curfew. Parents and guardians must realize that they will have to assist in its enforcement on the family level and always know the whereabouts of their children after curfew hours. Law enforcement authorities alone cannot effectively enforce curfews, all adults concerned with the safety of their community's children must join in the effort. For example, one way that the Charlottesville Police Department gained community support for the curfew involved using its school resource officers to inform all school personnel and students. …