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For juveniles, no more curfew tickets does not mean more crime

Thursday, September 6, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Last September, City Council unanimously voted to end the late-night curfew for minors that had been on the books for 27 years. Those who made the case to nix the ordinance argued with data that showed that curfews do not serve to reduce lawbreaking.

Although the ordinance was originally intended to address juvenile crime, community activist groups and a lengthy stakeholder process found that not only did it not reduce statistics, but the citations disproportionately affected black and Latino youth.

“There were over 1,000 stops of people and over 400 curfew tickets,” Morgan Craven, director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project at Texas Appleseed, told the Public Safety Commission at its Sept. 4 special called meeting. Of those tickets, most were issued in a geographical band that ranged from Northeast to Southeast Austin. According to her group’s research, hardly any were given in West Austin.

Since ending the curfew, which was a class C misdemeanor violation, last year, “juvenile arrests and victimization have not gone up in any dramatic way,” Craven said. In fact, Commissioner Preston Tyree pointed out that the data show a 21 percent decrease in the victimization of juveniles since lifting the curfew. “Is that just not statistically significant? It looks pretty good to me,” he said.

Craven agreed that keeping minors out of the criminal justice system is an important first step. She noted that criminalizing young people early on sets them up for problems in later life, such as difficulties in finding a job. She also noted that the repeal of the curfew came on the heels of the state’s decision to revise its truancy law. Truancy was a criminal offense in Texas that saw more than 100,000 students cited annually until the state revised its law on unauthorized school absences in 2015.

Since Austin lifted its curfew, San Antonio has reworked its curfews, the Public Safety Commission in Dallas is reviewing that city’s curfew, and due to a Marshall Project article that cited the success Austin is having with no curfew for minors, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, has decided not to adopt a curfew ordinance.

“Obviously there’s still a lot to do to support young people in the city,” said Craven. However, she explained that since the results of lifting the ban were consistent with the research, both the Austin Police Department and Council should feel confident in their decision.

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