Expert Commentary

Impact of juvenile curfew laws on arrests of youth and adults

2011 paper in The American Law and Economics Review on youth curfews and crime rates.


A youth curfew is a popular strategy for curbing juvenile crime rates; according to a 1997 report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 80% of the 347 cities surveyed had instituted some type of curfew for their younger residents. However, past scholarship on youth curfews has found little evidence that they are an effective crime deterrent and has suggested that such restrictions may exacerbate racial profiling and civil rights violations.

A 2011 study published in The American Law and Economics Review by the University of California, Berkeley, “The Impact of Juvenile Curfew Laws on Arrests of Youth and Adults,” analyzes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Unified Criminal Reporting files from 1980 to 2004 for the 54 larger U.S. cities (180,000-plus residents) that enacted youth curfews between 1985 and 2002. The researcher focuses on arrests for both minor offenses (loitering and curfew violations) and more serious infractions (such as violent crimes and property crimes).

Key study findings include:

  • Arrests of youths directly impacted by curfew restrictions drop by almost 15% in the first year and approximately 10% in following years. “In the average city, a permanent 10% reduction corresponds to roughly 135 [fewer] youth arrests per year.”
  • Arrests of young adults in their late teens or early twenties not directly impacted by curfew restrictions also slightly decline. Possible reasons include fewer cross-age interactions and additional all-ages social programming that might accompany curfew implementation.
  • A curfew’s impact is not dependent on the number of police officers enforcing it. Parents appear to be the primary curfew enforcers, and that “municipal curfews act as focal point in the establishment of household policies.”

“Though curfews appear to be effective at reducing juvenile arrests,” the author cautions, “it is important to bear in mind that we have little data on the costs of such programs, either directly in terms of dollars spend enforcing such ordinances or indirectly in terms of the opportunity costs of policing.”

Tags: youth, crime, policing

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