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Study: Curfews don't cut juvenile crime

Graphic June 10, 1998
Web posted at: 11:19 p.m. EDT (0319 GMT)

MONROVIA, California (CNN) -- A new study finds that curfews designed to get teen-agers off of the streets actually do very little to combat crime, as their supporters claim.

The Justice Policy Institute looked at the effect of curfews in several California cities and concluded that the curfews -- which have gained widespread popularity around the country in recent years -- are more of a public relations tool than a crime-fighting tool.

Even though curfew arrests of young people in California rose from 5,400 in 1989 to 21,200 in 1996, the JPI found that there was no corresponding decrease in youth crime rates.

"This was true for any race of youth, for any region, for any type of crime," its researchers concluded.

There were some cases where youth crime did decline, the drop mirrored that of overall adult crime rate and could not be attributed to curfew policies, the report said. And in other instances, curfews actually seemed to push youth-crime rates up, the study said.

However, the JPI's research is being disputed by some police agencies, who insist that curfews do indeed help reduce crime.

For instance, in Monrovia, California, which in 1994 became the first community in the nation to adopt a daytime curfew to reduce truancy, Police Chief Joseph Santoro said thefts and burglaries in various categories were down from 32 percent to 94 percent.

Monrovia's program has drawn praise from President Clinton and California Gov. Pete Wilson.

However, the JPI says its reading of police reports paints a different picture -- that youth crime actually jumped by 53 percent during the school year, when the curfew was in force, but dropped 12 percent during the summer, when it was suspended.

Dan Macallair, author of the JPI's report, said one reason for this may be that during the summer, Monrovia provides free youth recreation programs that are more comprehensive than those found in many other California cities -- positive intervention rather than what he called the "negative approach" of a curfew."

But critics of Macallair's research say his approach is flawed, primarily because he only looked at the number of arrests, which are up, but didn't take into account that the number of reported crimes among juveniles is down substantially.

Correspondent Greg LaMotte and Reuters contributed to this report.
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