Seeking to address the issue well before the summer season comes around, two organizations have sent a letter to Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and the new City Council urging repeal of the City’s juvenile curfew law. In the letter, the two groups, Progreso Latino and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, make the case for repealing the law on a number of grounds, most notably that curfews don’t reduce crime and may undermine public safety. The letter was prompted by the publication of a recent national article documenting the failure of such laws across the country.
Excerpts from the letter are below:
“There are many compelling reasons to oppose curfew ordinances on both constitutional and policy grounds … but a more practical reason for repealing the ordinance, which, when combined with its deleterious policy impact, provides ample reason for reconsideration: curfew ordinances don’t work.
“Curfew ordinances … make perfectly innocent activity – walking, talking or traveling outside – illegal. By doing so, they give police virtually unbridled discretion to stop, detain, harass and search teenagers. This can only encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
“The ordinance’s racial impact also cannot be ignored. Across the country, curfew ordinances seem to be enforced most often in black and Latino communities, and Rhode Island is no exception.
“We recognize the good intentions behind the City’s actions, as calls for these ordinances generally follow serious incidents of violence. But they remain misguided … a curfew ordinance offers a superficial “quick-fix” response to a complex issue while having no real impact on crime.
“Although the penalties in the City’s ordinance might seem relatively minor, enforcement of the ordinance can have the unfortunate and deleterious effect of leading young teens into the judicial system at an early age. … Even minor penalties can quickly turn into major ones when a parent fails, or finds herself unable, to pay any fines imposed.
“Our organizations certainly understand the City’s interest in seeking to protect teenagers from violence at night, but it should be up to parents, not police, to enforce curfews for their children, and for police to instead focus on enforcing the criminal laws on the books. Police time that is spent looking for … young people after some arbitrary nighttime hour arrives is time spent away from truly protecting the public.
“In conclusion, we believe that of all the interventions to address the problem of teenagers ‘hanging around doing nothing,’ police and judicial involvement are among the most toxic and counter-productive. There are many ordinances already on the books to deal with misconduct by juveniles – whether committed during the day or night. Imposition of a virtual house arrest against the innocent and guilty alike should not be in the arsenal.”
The full text of the letter can be found here.
The news article, from the Marshall Project, can be found here: