The Problem: Youth violence is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the United States. Every day, approximately 14 young people are victims of homicide, and an additional 1,300 require emergency services due to non-fatal assault related injuries. CDC: Youth Violence
The Law: Laws setting curfews are a popular tool for reducing crime in major urban areas. Although objections about the constitutionality of curfews are common, permanent nighttime youth curfews have been routinely upheld by courts as an authorized use of government power, particularly when exceptions are provided for employment and other legitimate activities. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1997. For examples of local curfew laws, see Philadelphia Ordinance § 10-303, San Francisco Ordinance § 539, and Chicago Ordinance § 8-16-020.
The Evidence: Kenneth Adams systematically reviewed studies assessing the effect of permanent curfews (permanent in the sense that not adopted only during exigent events like riots or natural disasters) that limit the hours during which minors may be in public without parental supervision. Kenneth Adams, The Effectiveness of Juvenile Curfews at Crime Prevention, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 2003; 587: 136. Adams identified 10 quasi-experimental studies that fit the criteria of evaluating the relationship between youth curfew laws and public safety and victimization. All 10 studies measured the difference before and after the adoption of a curfew. Overall, the findings from the studies were mixed. In almost all instances in which imposition of a curfew was associated with a subsequent improvement in public safety, the effect was small and or statistically insignificant. In a number of places, implementation of curfews was associated with reductions in public safety as indicated by increased rates of violent crime. Given the inconsistency of the findings and the failure of many of the studies to include comparison areas and or longer periods of observation, Adams concluded that the current research has not established the effectiveness of permanent curfews as an effective long-term measure for improving public safety.
The Bottom Line: According to the author of a peer-reviewed systematic review, there is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of youth curfew laws as means on decreasing crime and increasing public safety.