In response to a rash of homicides, the bedraggled city of Chester, Penn., has instituted an unusually harsh curfew, which mandates that everyone be off the streets of certain crime-plagued neighborhoods by 9 p.m. A noble effort to reduce violence, perhaps, but the evidence doesn’t bear out the crime-prevention strategy. Just ask the good citizens of Aberdeen, Scotland, who recently hoped that a curfew would ratchet down the drunken brawling and general ickiness that mars the fair city’s streets on weekend nights. But the curfew was lifted in April, after Aberdeen police pronounced it an abject failure. And as this comprehensive paper points out, curfews haven’t been proven to work any better than simply doing nothing:
Overall, the weight of the scientific evidence, based on ten studies with weak to moderately rigorous designs, fails to support the argument that curfews reduce crime and criminal victimization. Studies consistently report no change in crime in relation to curfews. When changes in crime are observed, they are almost equally likely to be increases in crime as opposed to decreases. Furthermore, curfew enforcement rarely leads to discovery of serious criminal behavior precipitating arrest. For the most part, curfew violators tend to be arrested for curfew-related offenses, such as lying about one’s age, and it could be argued that these arrests needlessly add to the criminal histories of some juveniles.
We actually don’t think temporary curfews like Chester’s are entirely without merit, but their effects strike us as akin to a placebo—they’re a way of telling a community that the situation has gotten out of hand, and that people need to do some serious thinking about their city’s future. But that effect probably tend to wear off once the initial shock of the curfew passes.