I've been thinking quite a bit about curfews this week, in addition to the research I've done to see what others have come up with regarding the efficacy of restricting movement around a community.
Why, when curfews clearly make no impact on arrests, overall crime, and truancy, do so many communities have them? From the data I have come across, over 200 communities across the nation have some sort of curfew laws.
Some comments in the press run along the lines of "No good can come of teenagers out in the streets at 1 AM." I would argue with that and can immediately think of the teenagers whose mission it is to serve the homeless in the cities around the country by handing out blankets and food. Sometimes this is done at night, when it is most needed.
But even if I agree that teens should be in their houses after a certain time, how does this decrease crime?
A person cannot be arrested unless they commit a crime (in America). A crime is determined by a set of laws that tell the citizens, "This is a crime, we as a community believe it is heinous/dangerous enough to deserve punishment."
Clearly, life threatening behaviors are going on in York City. Those responsible should be found, prosecuted, and punished.
When it becomes challenging to arrest the ones commiting crimes, I think the decision makers have the belief that if we lower the bar regarding what is considered criminal/illegal behavior, we can then arrest/prosecute people for a lesser crime. I suppose the hope is that scaring them with the legal process for a lesser crime will prevent them from commiting a more serious crime later on.
At least I THINK that must be the logic. I can't imagine what other rationale there would be.
Are curfews a variation on "If we bring them in, maybe we can find a charge so SOMETHING will stick?"
If groups are restricted more and more, then eventually more violations will happen. Then what? Too many restrictions diminishes the potency of law. If we are constantly told "No, no, no," people get frustrated and then complacent. If a truant is already a truant, what would they care about a curfew fine?
If freedom is to be limited, we NEED to see data showing that, in this case, fines for curfew violations have a specific and favorable impact on crime.
Which brings me to another point of contention - I fail to see exactly what goal the task force is attempting to reach. When implementing a plan, it is best to have the end in mind, a specific goal towards which to work. For instance, "We hope to see arrests decrease by X% as a result of instituting daytime curfews because that has been shown in the past."
Nowhere in the proposal is there any language regarding the specific indices the task force hopes to impact.
If a teen is truant, that is all we need to know. The truants are theoretically easily identified.
If the schools fail to track their truants, allowing them to wander the streets, then the schools need to be held accountable.
My children's right to move about freely during the day should never be challenged or questioned.
If the schools fail to cope with truancy, the citizens of York who feel threatened by a group of teens on the streets can call the police, or they can call the school directly. Or they can call Child Protective Services and report suspected child neglect.
Truancy is a multi-faceted problem, requiring a multi-pronged approach to reduce. None of the published research data that I have found shows that curfews work.
There are researched-based programs that DO work. They strive to increase engagement with schools, increase familial support, and work to improve the belief in teens that they do have a bright and meaningful future ahead of them.
Let's help them get there by doing what we know works. Who will pay for this? We all already are.
We can increase apprentice programs in the community by incentivizing businesses who agree to take on teens for training and education in a trade. Allow these businesses to pay teenage apprentices below minimum wage.
If we can increase teens' engagement with the businesses in their neighborhoods, they will feel more obligated to the functioning of the city.