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Is a 10 p.m. curfew a good idea in Philadelphia? | Pro/Con

As one of this summer’s crime prevention measures, Philly kids ages 17 and under have to be off the streets by 10 p.m. But research says this earlier curfew may have little impact.

Police on the west side of City Hall before the start of an 8 p.m. curfew following the Justice For George Floyd Philadelphia Protest on May 30, 2020. This month, Philadelphia imposed an earlier curfew for teenagers during the summer, in an effort to curb juvenile crime. Was this a good idea?
Police on the west side of City Hall before the start of an 8 p.m. curfew following the Justice For George Floyd Philadelphia Protest on May 30, 2020. This month, Philadelphia imposed an earlier curfew for teenagers during the summer, in an effort to curb juvenile crime. Was this a good idea?Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

This month, Philadelphia began implementing a new curfew for kids ages 17 and younger — instead of midnight, they have to be off the streets by 10 p.m.

The measure — which passed unanimously in City Council — is meant to help reduce the rate of juvenile crime. But research that examines the effects of curfews suggests it may have little impact.

So we asked the councilmember who introduced the curfew measure and a researcher who studied curfews: Is a 10 p.m. curfew a good idea in Philadelphia?

No: Curfews don’t curb teen crime.

By David B. Wilson

Curfews for youth have great intuitive appeal, and many teens within the United States reside in a community with one.

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that curfews offer little benefit.

Several years ago, my colleagues and I conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of all studies examining the effectiveness of juvenile curfews. We identified 12 studies that examined juvenile curfews in U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., and Waco, Texas. No matter where we looked, the pattern of evidence was similar: Juvenile curfews were not associated with any detectable reduction in the risk of young people perpetrating or being a victim of a crime. A more recent study published in 2020 on juvenile curfews in Baltimore reached a similar conclusion.

» READ MORE: Philly likely to set a 10 p.m. curfew for minors this summer under new Council bill. Experts say it’s ‘pointless.’

Why might this be? One potential reason is that relatively few young people are involved in crime during curfew hours, despite public perceptions to the contrary; most teens commit crimes during the after-school and early evening hours. Another potential reason is that curfews apply to an entire — and often large — geographic area, but data clearly show that crime tends to be concentrated in small geographic areas, often referred to as crime “hot spots.” Crime, particularly chronic and violent crime, is also often concentrated among a small number of individuals. Juvenile curfews are thus a blunt instrument trying to address a specific problem.

A commonsense argument for juvenile curfews is that if youth are home — or at least not out in public during curfew hours — they cannot be a victim of a crime or commit a crime. This reasoning assumes that youth at greatest risk of victimization or at greatest risk of committing a crime will also comply with a curfew. While many youths will abide by a curfew, not all do, and those that do not may well be those at greatest risk of involvement in a crime.

Furthermore, police departments vary in how aggressively they enforce juvenile curfews, raising the possibility that curfews may be effective if vigorously enforced. However, vigorous enforcement is unlikely to occur without giving the police significant additional resources. And if most youth crimes happen after school, it can be hard to justify that additional funding.

Of course, some people say: “What’s the harm?” One of the reasons that police give for weak enforcement is that arresting youth for a curfew violation isn’t a good use of police officers’ time. More importantly, a police officer who is enforcing a teen curfew is not doing other things which may do more to prevent crime.

“A police officer who is enforcing a teen curfew is not doing other things which may do more to prevent crime.”

David B. Wilson

The broad discretion that police have in the enforcement of curfews raises another concern. Research has shown that Black and brown youth are more likely to be arrested for a curfew violation than white youth. This may reflect implicit biases on the part of police officers, and increase racial disparities within our justice system.

Because juvenile curfews have broad commonsense appeal among the general public, local leaders are drawn to them as a solution to youth crime. Curfews also do not require public investments that may be controversial or strain local budgets like other potential solutions, such as youth centers, publicly funded family services, or other programs focused on positive youth development.

However, if a community is serious about addressing teen crime and victimization, a juvenile curfew is not the solution.

David B. Wilson is a professor in the department of criminology, law and society at George Mason University.

Yes: Our city is in crisis, and we have to try everything.

By Katherine Gilmore Richardson

Our city is in a state of emergency.

Thousands of Philadelphians have been shot over the last few years, including hundreds of children. As a mother of three, the thought of having my children’s precious lives stolen is unfathomable, and it cannot be acceptable in our city or any city.

With children and families living in terror, we need to take preventative action and use every tool in our toolbox to ensure we are seeking to keep our young people safe.

» READ MORE: Philly teens now have a 10 p.m. curfew for the summer. Here’s how it works.

Philadelphia has had a curfew for minors on the books since the 1950s. Last year, when the number of shootings and gun homicides in Philadelphia was the highest ever recorded, my colleagues and I on City Council passed the minor curfew reform bill. The measure updated the city code to simplify and standardize curfew times to align with state law around the hours young people can work and to make the minor curfew easier to enforce. That bill — which set curfews from between 9:30 p.m. and midnight, depending on kids’ ages — went into effect last year. But it wasn’t enough — based on the data that I’ve seen from the Police Department, curfew violations have more than doubled since last year.

“Doing nothing is simply not an option.”

Katherine Gilmore Richardson

This year, with gun violence continuing to rage across our city and the most violent time of the year quickly approaching, I introduced an update to the minor curfew that would change the curfew times for the summer for those 16 and older. Instead of being home by midnight, they now need to be home by 10 p.m. This bill passed City Council unanimously and was signed by Mayor Jim Kenney.

We can’t just tell kids they have to be off the streets — we have to give them someplace else to go. That’s why, over the years, I have worked to establish community evening resource centers. These are community-based spaces that provide daily activities, links to services, family supports, youth mentoring, and other activities. Many young people have nowhere to go in the evenings after other activities have closed for the day, and many parents are struggling with child care. These centers are open to all young people who want to use them. The centers are run by community-based organizations that employ trusted messengers to ensure young people out after hours have a safe place to go and are getting the resources they need and deserve. Two more of these centers are in development and are slated to open this summer.

I have worked diligently with my colleagues in City Council, the Kenney administration, and community partners to ensure the curfew operates in a way that prioritizes the safety and well-being of young people.

Our goal is simple: to keep young people safe, support families in need, and create stronger connections between families, community organizations, and local government. We all know we cannot solve this crisis alone. It is only through partnership that we will keep our young people safe and healthy and give them fun opportunities for growth and development.

I have learned through my time in government that when you do nothing, folks are mad, and when we act, folks are mad. We must use every tool we have to prevent the tragic loss of life we are experiencing in Philadelphia. Doing nothing is simply not an option, and this prevention-based approach seeks to save the lives of our young people and demonstrates the value of a strong family, community, and government partnership to protect our children.

Katherine Gilmore Richardson is a lifelong Philadelphian and councilmember at-large. She is the youngest African American woman ever elected to Philadelphia City Council and the mother of three Philadelphia public school students.