Issues Library—State & Local
What are Daytime Curfews?
Daytime curfews are local ordinances that require all school-age children to be inside during specified “school hours.” The use of curfews has far-reaching history in Anglo-Saxon law. William the Conqueror introduced it as a normal part of social life in England in the 1000s with the purpose of keeping the peace and preventing the fires that could result if citizens left their lamps burning for too long.1 Daytime curfews for juveniles, however, are a relatively new phenomenon. America’s first juvenile curfew law was enacted in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1880. By 1897, 300 cities had adopted nighttime juvenile curfew ordinances.2
Not only are nighttime juvenile curfew laws on the books in a large number of cities, but daytime juvenile curfew laws currently enjoy vast popularity in the United States. The City Mayors Society reported in 2009 that 100 U.S. cities currently have daytime curfew laws.3 Recently, the city of Dallas declared its intention to made it broadly illegal for those under 17 to appear in public without adult supervision during school hours. Any violators (whether children or adults who don’t stop the children) would be fined $500.4 The Wall Street Journal lists increasing instances of daytime curfews, from California to Ohio, Georgia, and Philadelphia.
The Kenneth Adams’ study for the American Academy of Political and Social Science explains the flourishing of curfews as a means for crime control as a result of several factors: rising juvenile crime, the need to identify at-risk children, and a decline in adult supervision. These proponents assume that juveniles will be less likely to commit crimes if they are kept from the streets, and that all juveniles out during school hours are potential criminals.5
Do They Work?
The effectiveness of daytime curfew laws is doubtful. A 1999 study by the Macallairs in the Western Criminology Review found that consistently, “curfew enforcement (even the strongest) has no effect on crime, youth crime, or youth safety.” Rather, “of much greater significance in crime control is the fact that rates of serious crime among youth are strongly correlated with those of adults around them.”6 It seems that children’s participation in crime is less tied to whether or not they’re in a traditional school setting during certain hours than to the kind of example and supervision they receive from their parents.
Adam’s later study also confirmed that some curfew laws either have no significant effects on crime, or, as in the case of Cincinnati, have actually caused truancy to increase. He attributes the touted effectiveness of such laws to inaccurate surveying methods and to the high amount of public opinion in support of these laws (54% of parents and 88% of mayors think such laws work to reduce juvenile crime).7
Do They Impact Homeschoolers?
Many laws do not contain provisions exempting homeschoolers from curfew restrictions. Even if homeschoolers are exempted, children may still be questioned by law enforcement officers who do not realize the children are homeschooled. It is thus not surprising that homeschoolers are at the forefront of those who protest juvenile curfew laws.8 Such laws seem to have unintended consequences. Many homeschoolers are uncomfortable with the presumption of juvenile guilt on which these laws are based, an assumption that hopes to limit the freedom of all school children because of the delinquency of some.9
HSLDA has helped several families fight accusations of truancy and unconstitutional daytime curfew ordinances. In 1997, for example, HSLDA helped five families file a suit against the city of Monrovia, California, to challenge the constitutionality of the city’s daytime curfew ordinance. That case was decided in favor of the city, but in recent years HSLDA has written numerous letters to city councils all over the country, explaining the constitutional issues raised by daytime curfews (these include potential freedom of assembly, parental rights, and fourth amendment claims) and urging them to vote down any such proposals. We have also represented several member families in court when their homeschooled children are ticketed for being in violation of daytime curfews. Currently, HSLDA is challenging the Los Angeles daytime curfew as applied to homeschoolers. (Read the HSLDA article: “Los Angeles Daytime Curfew Citation Dismissed.”)
What is HSLDA’s position? At a minimum, HSLDA consistently holds that these curfews should include clear exceptions for homeschool students. Beyond this, HSLDA has five more general objections to curfew laws:
1) Ineffectiveness: As previously noted, juvenile curfew laws are a poor policy decision because they fail to achieve their intended effect of deterring crime.
2) Search without probable cause: Daytime curfew laws allow law enforcement officers to search, question, and deter juveniles without going through the constitutional safeguards that were designed to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. (US Const, Am. IV)
3) Presumption of guilt: As noted, daytime curfew laws presume all juveniles out during certain hours guilty until proven innocent.
4) Indiscriminate punishment: Daytime curfews punish all juveniles indiscriminately, regardless of whether or not those juveniles and their families are conforming to a public school schedule.
5) Inappropriate vagueness: Many laws are worded such that they allow punishment for things like “loitering” or “idling,&rduqo; terms that leave ample room to the interpretation of law enforcement officers.
HSLDA encourages its members to contact us if you or your children are ever encountered by problems or harassment due to such laws.
1. Adams, Kenneth. (2003). The Effectiveness of Daytime Curfews at Juvenile Crime Prevention. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 587(136). Retrieved from: http://ann.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/587/1/136.
3. Favor, Tony. (21 July 2009) Youth Curfew Popular with American Cities but Effectiveness and Legality are Questioned. City of Mayors Society. Retrieved from: http://www.citymayors.com/society/usa-youth-curfews.html.
9. Barr, Bob. (6 April 2009) Daytime Curfews, While Perhaps Popular, are Bad Policy. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Blog. Retrieved from: http://blogs.ajc.com/bob-barr-blog/2009/04/06/daytime-curfews-while-perhaps-popular-are-bad-policy/.