Juvenile curfew laws are designed to restrict the presence of youths in certain public spaces during specified periods of time. The laws give police the power to stop and question young people who are suspected of breaking the curfew, and require them to return home or detain them if deemed appropriate. These curfews may be coupled with other intervention strategies, which attempt to improve parental supervision. Curfew laws can either be designed to try to reduce specific types of crime, such as gang-related activity, or to reduce all juvenile crime.
This narrative is based on a systematic review of 10 studies, no meta-analysis was conducted. All of the primary studies in the review were based on evidence from the USA. Crime outcomes from the review include rates of homicide, burglary, gang violence and assault, while secondary outcomes include juvenile victimisation and school attendance.
There is some evidence that the intervention has either increased or reduced crime, but no evidence that overall the intervention has had a statistically significant effect on crime, since no meta-analysis was conducted.
While individual studies found both statistically significant positive and negative effects on crime, the review stated that juvenile crime and victimisation are most likely to remain unchanged after the implementation of curfew laws.
The effect of the intervention could be compromised by displacement either in time or location of offending. One study showed displacement in the time of the offending – there was a drop during the curfew hours, but an increase once the curfew was finished.
The one study, which looked for geographical displacement, did not find any evidence for it.
Although the review was systematic, some forms of bias that could influence the study conclusions remain.
The search strategy for the review was well-designed and transparent, and unintended outcomes of the studies, such as displacement were considered. However, no meta-analysis was conducted so all outcomes were based on primary studies only – no synthesis was attempted.
Some biases were identified within the primary studies. The quality of individual studies varied considerably, and in some studies it was possible that control areas were contaminated (i.e. received the intervention when they should not have done), showing reductions in crime as a result.
Differences in outcome variables among the studies meant that comparison was difficult, and in some cases control groups were not comparable to the treatment group.
The review suggested a number of mechanisms by which juvenile curfew laws might have an effect on crime.
The first is opportunity theory – juveniles have less opportunity to commit crime if they spend less time on the streets. The very action of stopping youths during curfew times may act as a deterrent, and the increased police authority allowing them to stop and question juveniles may assist this. However, reported crime may also go up as police could detect other illegal activities when stopping juveniles for breaking the curfew.
Juvenile curfew laws may also improve parental supervision and authority by making parents responsible for their children during the time the curfew is in place, which could assist in crime reduction. However, juveniles may change their behaviour during curfew hours and spend more time in isolated places to evade detection. Lower levels of guardianship in these environments may subsequently increase the chance of offending.
None of these suggested mechanisms were tested in the review, although data collected in one of the primary studies suggested that juvenile arrests primarily related to breaking the curfew, rather than the discovery of additional crimes. This suggests that crime increases during the intervention may not be related to extra illegal activities detected through the intervention.
Increased school attendance during daytime curfews was measured in one study, but in 12 of the 17 schools truancy actually increased. This indicates that youths were not spending more time in school as a result of the curfew law.
The review identified a number of potential moderators, including crime type and ethnicity.
One primary study found that a curfew which aimed to disrupt gang activity saw a 57% decrease in gang-related violence, though there was also a 37% decrease in comparison areas.
When assessing the impact of juvenile curfews on traffic incidents, another study found that traffic accidents and fatalities were lower in curfew areas.
A study, which assessed the impact of curfews in 57 US cities, found that burglary, theft and simple assault all saw significant decreases of an average of 14%, with a significant decrease in homicide rates although the authors do not state by how much in percentage terms. Another study found statistically significant reductions in criminal mischief (15% lower) and weapons offences (29% lower), but significant increases in robbery (24% higher) and vehicle theft (15%).
A New Orleans study found a gradual and permanent increase in violent and property crimes after the introduction of juvenile curfews. They also found that African Americans were 19 times more likely to be arrested for curfew violations.
However, it must be noted that those areas targeted for curfew implementations had higher crime rates, poorer residents and more African American residents, so ethnicity may not be the only explanation for these higher arrest rates.
One study found that while curfews may bring about substantial short term drops in crime, in the long term enforcement or compliance may wane or criminal behaviour may adapt to new environmental conditions.
The review noted that juvenile curfew laws place much emphasis on parental responsibility, viewing parents as the first line of enforcement for these laws. Many of these laws will sanction both juveniles and their parents for violations, and some sanction parents only.
However, this emphasis on parental responsibility may present problems. If the juvenile does not have a safe home environment or parents willing and able to take responsibility for them, the initiative will not work. In one weekend curfew study in Dallas, the police could not arrange for a parent to come and collect the child in approximately 30% of curfew violations. This meant that overnight accommodation had to be found for them, which was problematic and costly. The review noted that those juvenile curfews which were short-term, highly focussed and used as part of a multifaceted crime control effort were most successful; however this was based on descriptive analysis.
Where this information is available in the primary studies, the review estimates direct costs of the implementation of juvenile curfew laws.
One primary study found that for the year 2000, curfew enforcement cost the police department $600,000 during which time 3,572 youths were arrested. The size of the area was not mentioned. Another study for 2002 found that for one weekend curfew the cost including overtime for officers came to $10,500. The review noted that while curfews are often seen as an inexpensive way of addressing juvenile crime problems, the total cost of the curfew would actually be influenced by many factors. These include police salary structure, the use of overtime, and the costs associated with taking juveniles into custody. In any cost-benefit analysis it is also important to take into account any displacement of crimes or diffusion of benefits realised.
• Curfews may be used as a means of identifying juveniles who are at high risk of criminal offending, and social services can be directed to their families.
There is some evidence that the intervention has either increased or reduced crime, but overall the intervention has not been shown to have a statistically significant effect on crime.
Juvenile curfew laws aim to reduce opportunities to commit crime and increase parental responsibility for their children. They may have potential to be effective against gang-related activity and traffic offences, although more rigorously conducted studies are needed.
Review: Adams, K. (2003) 'The Effectiveness of Juvenile Curfews at Crime Prevention', The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 587, 136-159
This narrative was prepared by UCL Jill Dando Institute and was co-funded by the College of Policing and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). ESRC Grant title: 'University Consortium for Evidence-Based Crime Reduction'. Grant Ref: ES/L007223/1.