Advocates urge NOLA City Council to reject citywide curfew for youth

Yesterday, a group of advocates sent the following open letter to the New Orleans City Council, regarding a proposed citywide curfew that would make it illegal for youth under the age of 16 to be outdoors after 8pm.


January 18, 2012

Dear Councilmembers:

We all know that New Orleans faces a crisis due to the recent spike in crime. We all seek solutions to that crisis that will best serve the needs of our community and keep everyone – young and old – safe. For the reasons that follow, we believe that any expansion of the current citywide curfew is the wrong approach. We urge you to take the time to study the efficacy of curfews before passing a law that will criminalize young people simply for being who they are.

There is no clear evidence that juvenile curfews reduce crime

The original intent of the current curfew law, passed in 1994, was to reduce crime committed by and against juveniles. But a review in 2000 by noted researchers found no evidence that the New Orleans juvenile curfew has been effective in accomplishing these laudable goals.[1] In fact, the overwhelming body of evidence indicates that curfew laws are ineffective in reducing crime and criminal victimization. [2]

Most juvenile crime (up to 85%) occurs between 2 pm and 7 pm, outside of the current and proposed curfew hours. This fact strongly suggests that an expansion of the current curfew to 8 pm on weekends will not achieve our common interest of reducing violent crime committed by youth and ensuring efficacious use of public resources towards these ends.[3]

Extending the curfew will harm young people and encourage disrespect for the law

An 8 pm curfew – among the very strictest in the United States – will drastically reduce the amount of free time teenagers have outside of school, limiting their ability to date, go to the movies, or attend nighttime Mardi Gras parades. It will essentially punish teens for being teens – wanting to go out with their friends and enjoy the rich cultural experience that New Orleans provides. At the same time, it will hurt the businesses that provide safe outlets for teens to meet with their friends.

If the curfew is enforced, it will teach teens that the law is irrational because it will make them prisoners of their homes, just because of their age. If it is not enforced, it will teach them that the law is of no effect. If it is disproportionately or unfairly enforced, it will teach them that the law is biased. None of these outcomes will lead to the respect that we all want our young people to have for the law and its enforcement.

There is significant risk of racial disparities in curfew enforcement

Empirical evidence shows that black youth nationwide are cited for curfew violations 71% more than white youth. (See note 3). In New Orleans, African Americans are arrested for curfew violations at a rate NINETEEN times greater than are white youth. (See Note 2). There is, then, a significant risk that some teens will be disproportionately and unfairly affected by this change in the law.

Experts believe there is no way to control for implicit bias that is manifest in enforcement practices.[4] These outcomes diminish community support and undermine the viability of the juvenile curfew as an effective crime-fighting tool. They also further undermine respect for law enforcement, as some young people know they are exempt from enforcement while others know they are subject to more strict penalties.

Our law enforcement officials must focus on dangerous criminals, not on teens

Our police force has an overwhelming job and a limited budget. It faces clear recommendations from the Department of Justice to target serious and violent crimes. Local organizations including the Metropolitan Crime Commission agree that curbing the outbreak of violent crime must be the top priority. Redirecting resources towards enforcement of a juvenile curfew is a misguided allocation of scarce police resources and time. We cannot solve the murder rate in New Orleans by pursuing teens.

Before expanding the current juvenile curfew – which may not be effective - we must determine whether this step will move New Orleans closer towards reducing crime. We need an evidence-based assessment that should be made in consultation with law enforcement experts, the Department of Justice, public safety scholars, business and community representatives, and affected youth and families – so that we can move together as one city, united in improving safety for all of us. This may take some time, and we urge you to spend the time needed to do what will truly protect everyone.


Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana
Dana Kaplan, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
Katie Schwartzmann, Southern Poverty Law Center
Tracie Washington, Louisiana Justice Institute
Norris Henderson, V.O.T.E.
Wesley Ware, BreakOUT
Jordan Flaherty
Jordan Shannon, Puentes New Orleans
Pam Nath, Mennonite Central Committee, New Orleans
Joseph Heeren-Mueller, New Orleans Catholic Worker Community
Robert Goodman, Safe Streets Strong Communities
Deborah Cotton
Matthew Olson
Carol Kolinchak
Diana Gray
Rowan Shafer, public school teacher
Deanna Vandiver, Preliminary fellowship, Unitarian Universalist minister
David Finger, Assistant Clinical Professor, Loyola Law Clinic
Lou Furman
Amy Wolfe
Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Director of Religious Education, First Unitarian Universalist Church of
New Orleans


[1] William Ruefle and Kenneth Mike Reynolds, “Keep them at home: juvenile curfew ordinances in 200 American cities,”
American Journal of Police 15, no. 1 (1996): 63-84.
[2]Kenneth Adams, “The Effectiveness of Juvenile Curfews at Crime Prevention,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of
Political and Social Science 587, no. 1 (May 1, 2003): 136-159. p.155
[3]Sutphen, R., & Ford, J. (2001). The Effectiveness and Enforcement of a Teen Curfew Law. Journal of Sociology and Social
Welfare, 28(1), 55-78.

[4] Norton, Dierde “Policies Driving Curfew Legislation.” Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, vol. 4 :175,

Rosana Cruz is Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender). Previously Rosana worked with Safe Streets/Strong Communities and the National Immigration Law Center. Prior to joining NILC, she worked with SEIU1991 in Miami, after having been displaced from New Orleans by Katrina. Before the storm, Rosana worked for a diverse range of community organizations, including the Latin American Library, Hispanic Apostolate, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans, and People's Youth Freedom School. Rosana came to New Orleans through her work with the Southern Regional Office of Amnesty International in Atlanta.