Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Curfew Chimera

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Curfew Chimera

Article excerpt

In their frenzied enactment of juvenile curfew ordinances over the past 10 years, U.S. cities have glided over a fairly obvious question: Do the laws actually work?

Although curfews have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, most investigative energy is devoted to constitutional issues. Of the few studies that do look into effectiveness, only four or five employ statistical analysis. The rest rely on anecdotes and opinions, but they have overshadowed the statistical studies--which uniformly suggest that curfews don't work.

Among the opinion-based studies is a 1997 survey conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Most of the 55 cities surveyed, it admits, "did not conduct a formal evaluation, but instead provided anecdotal evidence of the curfew's impact on crime rates." Most of the literature on curfew effectiveness is similarly deficient: Many studies report that crime has fallen during curfew hours, but ignore the displacement of crime to noncurfew hours--a shift documented in nearly every statistical study. Others do not account for the fact that juvenile crime has declined in curfew and noncurfew cities alike. Yet despite all these lacunae, the studies conclude that curfews reduce crime. …

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