One of the toughest curfew laws in the country went into effect last night, in Baltimore.
The Baltimore City Council passed the controversial law requiring children and some teens to be in by 9 PM back in June.
Proponents of the law argue that it will prevent children and teens from being victims of, or committing violent crimes, as well as make it easier to spot children who are neglected. Critics argue that such laws will unfairly target African American kids and teens.
The new law mandates that children 14 and under will need to be accompanied by an adult between the hours of 9 PM and 6 AM year round. Teens from 14 to 16 must be accompanied by an adult from 10 PM to 6 AM on weeknights during the school year and from 11 PM to 6AM on weekends and during summer months. The pre-existing daytime curfew has also been amended to extend from 7:30 AM to 3 PM during the school year; previously it was 9 AM to 2:30 PM.
After the first curfew violation, a child’s parents or guardians may be issued a civil citation or be required to attend family counseling. If the counseling sessions are not successfully completed, or if a child has repeated violations, parents or guardians may be subject to a civil citation or a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $500 and community service.
Those youth who are found to be violating the curfew will be taken to Youth Connection Centers. When a child under the age of 13 is taken to a center or when any child’s parent or guardian cannot be located, the Baltimore City Department of Social Services’ Child Protective Services division will be notified.
Baltimore’s curfew is now the toughest law of its kind in the entire country, including amongst those areas with higher violent crime rates.
According to the FBI’s crime stats for 2012, St. Louis Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee are two of the country’s most violent cities. These cities, however, require youth under 17 to be indoors at 11 PM on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Brandon Scott, says the curfew “is not about rounding up thousands of teenagers,” but rather providing much needed services to families.
“If (children) are out there that late by themselves, that’s an indicator that they and their families need services,” Scott said.
The mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has stated that keeping children indoors will help break a cycle of violent crime.
“We know that when children are on the streets late at night without adult supervision, they are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of violent crimes,” Rawlings-Blake said.
Two councilman who voted against the bill, Carl Stokes, and Warren Branch, said there should be a greater emphasis placed on developing programs than beefing up punitive measures.
Stokes called the curfew bill “a false effort to avoid the more obvious proactive methods we should be using to engage young people, encourage them and give them opportunities for growth.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland opposes the bill as well, and has sent a letter of opposition to the City Council.
ACLU attorney Sonia Kumar said the curfew law “essentially criminalizes people for just being outside,” and could unfairly target children in poor black neighborhoods with a heavy police presence.