Civil Liberties

Baltimore Mayor to Curfew Foes: Go Live On a Farm

The shaky case for government-imposed teen curfews


Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake doesn't have patience for critics of the curfew she wants to impose on the city's kids. WBFF reports:

Commenting for the first time publicly since the city council passed a law that would ban teens under 14 from being out after 9 p.m., the mayor took aim at concerns over the new restrictions, urging parents to get more involved with supervising their children.

"If you want to have your kid run amok 24 hours a day, go live out on a farm somewhere. This is a city and we are going to make sure that we keep our kids safe," Rawlings-Blake said. "I'm not going to sit by and allow our young people to be either perpetrators or victims of violence when everybody with any common sense knows they should be supervised by a responsible adult."

I'm pretty sure farmers tend to go to bed earlier than city people, but set that aside. Let's move on to the editorial page of The Baltimore Sun, which has joined the mayor in supporting the revised curfew. Interestingly, the Sun recognizes that the new rules won't do much to limit crime—"most juvenile offenses occur during the daylight hours just after school lets out," the paper notes—but it thinks the law is worthwhile on other grounds:

Most children found on the street after curfew are not plotting to commit a crime; the more likely reason for their presence outdoors is that they are fleeing unstable, neglectful or abusive home environments or are from families that are experiencing homelessness.

Picking such children up and identifying them to social workers is the first line of defense against allowing them to develop even more serious problems, and it is an opportunity to help parents set reasonable limits on their comings and goings. Of the 500 or so youngsters brought to the city's curfew center last summer, only a few dozen were returned there for subsequent curfew violations, which suggests the center's counseling and other services were having the desired effect.

It's not exactly news that the welfare state has punitive functions and the criminal justice system has welfare functions, but it's still striking to see those two threads woven together as tightly as they are in this argument. The Sun's editorialists evidently think the optimal way to identify kids in bad family situations is to see who's outside after 9, that the people best suited for finding them are the police, and that the best way to improve their lives is to threaten their families with a $500 fine (just what an unstable household needs!). There is no evident concern for the abuse and neglect the kids might suffer if they end up getting drawn into the system, and there is a bizarre faith that "subsequent curfew violations" are a good metric for figuring out if people's problems have been solved. Beneath its soft-spoken, humanitarian rhetoric, this editorial is even more contemptuous than the mayor's line about moving to the farm.