Curfews hurt societies not help

I’ll try to keep this short and sweet to get the conversation started. I want society to start thinking of what is actually driving the issues we face in Belize and how we can properly address them and help our future generations get out of the mud into a better future.

First off, what is a curfew?

The word “curfew” comes from the French phrase “couvre-feu“, which means “fire cover”. It was later adopted into Middle English as “curfeu”, which later became the modern “curfew”. The stated goal of most curfew laws is twofold: to prevent juvenile crime and to protect youth from victimization; however, most curfews have had the side effect of the police causing victimization.

A curfew is an order establishing a specific time in the evening after which certain regulations apply, especially that no civilians or other specified group of unauthorized persons may be outdoors or that places of public assembly must be closed.

Why use them?

A curfew issued by the Public Authorities or Military Forces requiring everyone or certain people to be indoors at certain times, often at night. It can be imposed to maintain public order or suppress targeted groups. Curfews have long been directed at certain groups in many cities or states, such as Japanese-American university students on the West Coast of the United States during World War II, African-Americans in many towns during the time of Jim Crow laws, or people younger than a certain age (usually within a few years either side of 18) in many towns of the United States since the 1980s.

According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), curfew enforcement is often ineffective and unnecessarily funnels large numbers of non-delinquent youth into a criminal justice system that is already inundated with alleged offenders.1

According to the literature review conducted by Ruefle and Reynolds, little or no recent empirical evidence indicates that curfew initiatives have an effect on juvenile crime, nor has research addressed the impact of curfews and their enforcement on the criminal justice system as a whole.

Curfews marginalize the youth from low income families and neighborhoods and are a violation of the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

In past California curfew law cases the Court of Appeals ruled “ The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture [them] and direct [their] destiny have the right and the high duty, to recognize and prepare [them] for additional obligations.”2

One good thing that comes from curfews is this:

In addition to equipping law enforcement with tools to keep youth off the streets, curfews provide parents with a legitimate, legal basis for restricting the activities of their children. It is easier for parents to place boundaries on their children’s activities, proponents argue, when other youth in the neighborhood are similarly restricted by a specific time to return home.3

Opponents of curfew ordinances are concerned with the restrictive nature of these laws and the limitations on a youth’s first amendment right to free speech and association. Others argue that curfews give law enforcement excessive power to detain children without probable cause and subject them to police questioning in violation of the fourth amendment’s guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. Additional criticisms come from other groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who argue that curfew measures violate the constitutional rights of children and parents. Yet other critics argue that curfews violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment by establishing a suspect classification based solely on the age of a group of individuals4 Further, some court cases have struck down curfew laws because they are vague and overreaching, not because they violate fundamental rights.

In 1999 there was a movement for this in Belize by Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development, particularly in Belize City and Dangriga and it was being touted as:

The move, which may seem extreme, is intended to curb the incidents of juvenile violence as well as indecent assaults against minors.

It’s sad that people start blaming and marginalizing others and victims with thoughts like these:

“That’s good because no one could stay out late. I think being out after 10, 11, 12, even for me a grownup, is bad because trouble come for you.”

Not because someone stays out late means that there are engaged in criminal acts.

“The main age that children are being abused, especially girls, is around that age so they’d better get in at that hour.”

We should never be blaming someone being out late as the reason they got abused, we need to stop this victim blaming mentality.

“It’s a good idea because kids would die.”

As noted above, not because someone is out late means they are committing violence or will be a victim.

So what do we do for a solution?

There is no one solution to the plague of violence societies face and there needs to be a huge movement toward understanding what keeps driving our kids to violence and other criminal activities before we start making assumptions. Each sector of our society is different and we need to treat them as such and start addressing their individual needs to fix the issue. I won’t get too in-depth in this thought process but hopefully this will drive the discussion that needs to happen not just by Government, Police and Military but our entire society because as I’ve said before many times … Change starts from within. Unless we start to change our perspective as individuals that make up the whole things will never change no matter how extreme the measures are that are put in place. See the Desmond Tutu quote on our home page to get a sense of what we need.


Poverty is noted as a major part if not the main issue driving crime, let’s dig in a bit.

Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this empirical reality comes from the simple observation made by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson several decades ago in introducing their “routine activities theory” of crime.5

The UN and the World Bank both rank crime high on the list of obstacles to a country’s development. Crime has this capacity to generate vicious cycles causing unemployment, economic downturns and instability. Poverty and crime combined together leave people with two choices: either take part in criminal activities or try to find legal but quite limited sources of income – when there are any available at all.

Studies since the 70’s have shown correlation between poverty, lack of education, unemployment and quality of neighborhood among other things and crime. What makes the connection even more unmistakable is that poverty and crime are both geographically concentrated so that where you find poverty, you will also find crime.

The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime followed the lives of around 4,300 young people as they made the transition from childhood to adulthood, the researchers found that poverty is a strong driver of violent offending amongst young people. However, systems of youth and adult justice, far from tackling violence and lifting young people out of poverty, serve instead to entrench poverty, thereby reproducing the very conditions in which violence can flourish.6

The researchers have set out four measures of poverty:

  1. socio-economic status of the head of household;
  2. whether the young person was not in education, training or employment at age 18 (NEET);
  3. whether the young person had been unemployed for more than a year at age 22;
  4. neighbourhood deprivation based on census measures of poverty in the young person’s area of residence.

Young people from low socio-economic status households were significantly more likely to be charged by the police than those who were not. Young men who had been unemployed for more than a year were significantly more likely to be charged than others in the population studied. Furthermore, those who were both unemployed for more than a year and known to the police by 15 were significantly more likely to be convicted than those in employment and those with no such policing history, even after their involvement in serious offending had been taken into consideration.

The Edinburgh Study provides evidence that children living in poverty are over-represented amongst violent offenders. Children from poor backgrounds are disproportionately selected into the juvenile justice system and retained there by decision making that is based on, amongst other things, their impoverished status. The system causes structural failures that prevent those in poverty from moving out of this condition and, in the longer term, this constrains opportunities and reduces life-chances.

Criminal justice and penal law were not designed in a just society but developed within unequal societies to reflect and reinforce existing power structures. Put bluntly their intention was never justice but to reflect and protect the interests of the powerful. Prisons continue to recognise this reality both by their treatment of those incarcerated in them and through the threat of their use against a wider population.John Moore - Newman University, Birmingham

Depending on the feedback we may convert this into a series, the ball is now in your court. Leave your comments below.

References   [ + ]

1.Ruefle & Reynolds at 347
2.Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)
3.Ruefle & Reynolds at 348
4.Curfew at 7
5.Cohen, Lawrence E. and Marcus Felson. 1979
6.Fabians – The Greatest Divide

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