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Curfews, parental accountability to reduce crime

An idea from Caddo Parish deserves replication across Louisiana to deal with juvenile crime.

In response to a recent murder allegedly committed by juveniles, the district attorney’s office said, if possible, it would prosecute their parents as well. That response follows a pledge by District Attorney James Stewart, who last year announced his willingness to enforce local curfew ordinances.

Stewart practices what he preaches. Three months after his pronouncement, he followed through with an arrest and subsequent conviction of a mother of two pre-teens accused of a string of crimes. He also has gone after parents who miss court dates dealing with children’s excessive truancy.

Holding parents accountable this way may occur through a two-step procedure: if a crime is committed during the local curfew period for minors, this opens the door for charging parents under state law with improperly supervising a minor. R.S. 14:92.2 spells out this crime, which may happen when parents negligently allow for certain actions to occur, including children out after curfew or truancy, or minors under their care associating with people known to them to engage in certain illegal activities.

Although parents can face fines of hundreds of dollars and/or imprisonment for up to two years, almost all punishable situations defined in the law permit levying 40 hours of probationary community service or parenting classes. Further, for this crime if parents seek professional counseling for their children, they escape any penalty.

These blandishments to make parents take an active oversight role over their children are neither punitive nor heavy-handed. Further, if circumstances prevent the necessary amount of supervision, parents my file an ungovernable juvenile petition with juvenile or district court (only a few parishes have dedicated juvenile courts) and the court will assign a probation officer who will provide rules for that child to follow.

Concerning curfews, parish governing authorities or municipalities may define this according to state law. In Ouachita Parish, for example, that extends Monday through Thursday between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM of the following day, and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, between midnight and 5 AM of the following day for anyone under 17. The same applies in Monroe except the Sunday curfew starts at 11 PM. Both have exceptions for certain things such as a family emergency.

As it is, empirical evidence suggests that such laws work to reduce not only intentional crime but also those from accidents such as damage caused by minors illegally operating vehicles. A recent federal government study reviewing a number of studies over the past few decades determined most showed a significant positive impact from minor curfew establishment.

But the state could do more. With over 360 municipalities and parishes needing under current state law to act separately in enacting curfew ordinances (parishes only have the authority in unincorporated areas), to pick up those jurisdictions without a curfew, lawmakers could implement a statewide default curfew that extends beyond its present curfew on minors operating vehicles. This action would close the seeming loophole in state law that imposes parental accountability but only where a curfew law exists in the first place.

This approach could lower the state’s depressing juvenile crime statistics by nipping in the bud tendencies towards escalating criminality. Nationally, in 2016 Louisiana has the third-highest rate of juvenile arrests for aggravated assault, ranked eighth in robberies, had the third-most larcenies, and came in sixth in weapons charges. Because the state only ended up 23rd in arrests for drugs, it didn’t have the highest overall arrest rate for juveniles, finishing fifth at 1,770 per 100,000 children.

A more concerted effort by DAs statewide to tie parents to children’s behavior can help reduce juvenile criminality. Legislators should facilitate this role by providing the tie through a statewide minor curfew law.

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