Teen Curfew Debate

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Curfews for juveniles – Do they work?

With the Western Australian State Government’s introduction of the Young People in Northbridge Policy, the issue of juvenile curfews is both current and prevalent within our community. In recognising this issue as one of considerable interest, this paper introduces and critiques the Young People in Northbridge Policy and juvenile curfews more generally, leading to a statement of Outcare’s position on the matter.

Background: Responding to juvenile delinquency and offending

Both nationally and internationally, juvenile offending has consistently and pervasively been presented as a crucial area of concern among governments, their policymakers, and the general community alike. In Australia, statistics reveal that juvenile offender rates have generally been twice as high as adult ones. While the latest statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) demonstrate a significant decrease in Australian juvenile offender rates in the period from 1996–97 to 2003–04, from 3,965 to 3,023 per 100,000 per year, there has been a noteworthy increase since 2005 to 3,532 per 100,000 in 2006–07. Further, while the same statistics reveal a decrease in most offences, there has been a 48 percent documented increase in juvenile offender rates for assault in the decade from 1996–97 to 2006–07 (AIC, 2009, p. 58). These statistics serve to reinforce the importance of developing innovative responses in addressing juvenile crime, especially given that the juvenile stage represents a crucial point for intervention.

In responding to juvenile crime and delinquency, the implementation of juvenile curfew policies, which restrict the movement of juveniles in public spaces (usually nocturnally), have become an increasingly popular strategy, being revered as a means of crime prevention, harm minimisation and crime detection (Adams, 2003; Reynolds, Seydlitz & Jenkins, 2000; Simpson & Simpson, 1993). The imposition of such juvenile curfew policies has a long history in the United States, with a documented 80 percent of its largest cities and 75 percent of its moderate-sized cities, having juvenile curfew laws (Reynolds, et al., 2000). It seems Australia is following suit with most jurisdictions having enacted or at least considered such policies.

Despite their popularity, however, curfew initiatives have remained a controversial topic. On one end of the spectrum, curfew policies represent a cost-effective strategy that promises to reduce juvenile crime and victimisation. Yet on the other, they can be seen to infringe on civil rights and liberties, among other criticisms to be discussed within this paper. These arguments are particularly relevant to the Western Australian experience, with the implementation of the Young People in Northbridge Policy, which continues to draw attention even six years after its announcement. With such policies enjoying immense popularity among governments both here and abroad, it begs the question: Do they work?

The Young People in Northbridge Policy

In June 2003, the Western Australian State Government, led by Premier Geoff Gallop, implemented the Young People in Northbridge Policy, which stipulates a curfew to all unsupervised children in the Northbridge entertainment precinct. The policy prohibits children under the age of 12 from the area after sunset, and children aged 13-15 after 10pm, unless under the immediate care of a sober, responsible guardian. The policy also directs a ‘hard-line approach’ by police to all under-18-year-olds engaged in anti-social behaviour or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

With the legal position of the policy outlined in Section 41 of the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (WA), police and other authorised personnel are directed to engage unsupervised young people within the precinct and direct them to their homes (Carpenter, 2006). Those youths that are deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ are taken to the WA Police...
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