Thursday, March 12, 2009

Madison EOC: Please oppose change in youth curfew

*** Update: The Madison Equal Opportunities Commission voted unanimously tonight to oppose a change in the youth curfew law. Thank you EOC for standing up for youth rights! ***

The change would bump up the curfew for youth under 17 an extra hour: 10:00 pm on weeknights, 11:00 pm on weekend. Police officers asked city council members to propose this change so that they could have another tool to quiet neighborhoods. But police already have the power to stop people when they have reasonable suspicion that someone is breaking or about to break a law. Police also already have the power to cite people for disorderly conduct.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has written a letter to the EOC explaining our position that curfews shouldn’t be imposed on people, even youth, who are otherwise engaged in lawful activity. We hope our position will lend support to an EOC decision to oppose the curfew change and encourage the city council not to create a more restrictive juvenile curfew law.

This is a segment from our letter:
“While the Wisconsin Supreme Court recognized the constitutionality of curfews (a decision made about the temporary curfews imposed on Milwaukee streets during the civil unrest of the ‘60s), it is the position of the ACLU of Wisconsin that curfew laws deny the constitutional rights of due process, freedom of movement and equal protection. Only in emergency public safety cases are temporary curfews justified.

“Juvenile curfew laws inherently discriminate against young people and give police unlimited discretion to give citations or even arrest youth engaged in otherwise non-criminal or constitutionally protected freedoms. Limits on young people's freedom of movement should come from parents, not police.

“Furthermore, curfew laws treat young people like criminals when they have not committed a crime. This breaks the trust between youth and law enforcement, reinforces a belief that the criminal justice system is biased and inconsistent, and creates costly punishments that disproportionately impact low-income families.

“It was also cited in a Wisconsin State Journal article on November 17, 2008 that an earlier youth curfew would be able to be enforced before the Madison City Police officers’ shift change. Ultimately police shift schedules should not be the basis for the restriction of rights of an entire class of people or the creation of a more restrictive juvenile crime.”

Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog for updates on the youth curfew proposal in Madison.