This Friday a new youth curfew law, one of the strictest in the nation, will go into effect in Baltimore. It will require unaccompanied children under the age of 14 to be indoors by 9pm and 14, 15 and 16-year-olds to be indoors by 10pm on weekdays and 11 pm on weekends and during the summer. Children found out after the curfew will be picked up by police and brought to one of two curfew centers where the child's parents will then be called. Parents can face anywhere from a $30-$500 fine.
While the safety and well being of our youth is a top priority, criminalizing them and their parents is not the answer. As I have blogged about before, once inside our juvenile justice system, our youth find it very difficult to extricate themselves and all too often are funneled into the adult system. The ACLU is also extremely concerned that this law will further exacerbate existing disparities as in Baltimore as 97% of arrests are youth of color.
As we have seen countless times, it is all too easy for our policy-makers to reach for the criminal justice Band-Aid to address the issue of the day. However, our criminal justice system is ill equipped to deal with many of the problems we throw at it and often makes the situation worse for those who find themselves inside the system. As ACLU Staff Attorney Sonia Kumar said in a letter to the New York Times, “Rather than invest in real solutions, Baltimore’s politicians passed a sweeping laws that cannot be fairly enforce and that will further criminalize youths.”