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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen8:00 amMay 31, 20140

Arguing curfew will hurt not help youth, groups offer alternative

Proposal would make curfew center more “youth friendly,” offer more safe, positive activities and other support

Above: Advocates say expanding a police-enforced curfew for city teenagers will create “unintended consequences.”

Offering an alternative to the expanded youth curfew scheduled for a final City Council vote on Monday, a coalition of community and youth advocates led by the American Civil Liberties Union say their plan will support rather than criminalize vulnerable youth out after hours.

“What is the problem they are trying to solve by putting all of Baltimore’s youth on house arrest?” said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.

“We have heard everything from getting kids to bed earlier, to stopping them from buying junk food, to making sure very small children are supervised at late hours, to a generic need to get kids ‘services.’”

Kumar argued that a curfew enforced by police is not the answer to these problems, “especially when officials have zero answers about how they will implement the law without criminalizing young people or worsening racial disparities in police contacts in our city.”

In suggesting an alternative plan, the groups are encouraging city leaders to “step back, define the specific problems they seek to address and develop more informed solutions,” Kumar said. (Full text of ACLU plan)

Council Bill 13-0261 would require children under 14 to be off the street by 9 p.m. year round. Youngsters ages 14 to 16 could stay outside until 10 p.m. on school nights and until 11 p.m. on other nights.

Under current rules, all children and teens younger than 17 can stay out until 11 on weeknights and until midnight on weekends.

The legislation specifies that police take violators to curfew centers – to be dubbed “youth connection centers” – where they can be picked up by parents or possibly turned over to a social service agency.

Curfew supporters, including bill sponsor Councilman Brandon Scott, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, say it will help protect children from neglect or becoming the victims of crime.

More Safe Activities

Backers of the alternate plan say they have a better way to accomplish those goals:

• Revise the plan for the youth connection centers so they are youth-friendly, not associated with law enforcement or curfew violations, and have explicit, intentional policies to avoid unintentionally criminalizing youth.

• Increase the availability of safe activities to engage youth.

• Work with city schools and youth experts to identify target populations and high-impact solutions, including schools, youth outreach programs, family support and acceptance services, drop-in centers, emergency shelter and housing for homeless children, and expanded workforce development and jobs programs for youth.

• More effectively utilize existing authority, including social services, existing curfews and police.

Along with the ACLU, the groups who collaborated to develop the alternative proposal include the Homeless Persons Representation Project, Youth Empowered Society and Advocates for Children and Youth.

The plan is supported by an expanding coalition. Among them: Community Law in Action, Maryland Disability Law Center, Free State Legal, City Neighbors Foundation, the Inner Harbor Project, and the Public Justice Center.

Unintended Consequences

“Forcing all Baltimore youth indoors under an expanded set of curfew laws has little to do with making sure that the city is working with communities, families and youth to improve services and programs for youth,” said Kumar said in news release accompanying the plan.

“Because the needs and challenges of young people vary dramatically, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of expanding the youth curfew is not an effective way to identify youth in need, reduce delinquency, or connect youth to services.”

Ingrid Lofgren, an attorney with the Homeless Persons Representation Project, said that expanding the curfew law will hurt homeless youth. “Instead of criminalizing homeless youth, who have no choice but to be in a public space, we need to invest in resources, like housing and supportive services, that address the root causes of homelessness,” Lofgren said.

Logren warned that the curfew expansion “will cause unintended consequences – more negative law enforcement contacts with youth, with the result of further criminalizing Baltimore’s young people.”

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