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Public defenders decry Prince George’s juvenile curfew

Natasha Dartigue

“Curfews do not make anyone safer or address any underlying societal problems which are the true root of crime,” says Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue.

Public defenders are criticizing a 30-day youth curfew going into effect tonight in Prince George’s County intended to curb rising crime in the county.

August was the deadliest month in over three decades, the county’s chief of police, Malik Aziz, said at a Labor Day news conference, with 24 homicides occurring in the county. Carjackings, armed robberies and other crimes have also been up, she said. 

In hopes of easing those numbers, Prince George’s County is requiring youths ages 16 and younger to be in their home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weeknights, and 11:59pm and 5am on weekends (Friday and Saturday night).  

But some argue that such curfews are ineffective ways of curtailing crime and serve only to unnecessarily criminalize children — in this case, Black and brown children in particular, as people of color make up the majority of the county’s population. 

Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue and District Public Defender for Prince George’s County Melissa Pryce decried the move in a Wednesday press release. 

“Curfews do not make anyone safer or address any underlying societal problems which are the true root of crime. At best, curfews are an ineffective Band-aid; at worst, they criminalize our most vulnerable and at-risk children,” said Dartigue. “Curfews increase the likelihood of young people being needlessly drawn into the criminal justice system. Youth who are not safe in their home, or lack a stable home, will be subject to police and court involvement regardless of whether they are involved in any delinquent or criminal activity. Curfews serve as an entry into the school-to-prison pipeline.” 

Youths who break the curfew will initially receive a warning, with police informing them of the curfew and telling them to go home. On subsequent offenses, officers will notify the youth’s parents; if they are not able to get in contact with the parents within two hours, the child will be transferred to the Department of Social Services. 

Businesses that allow youths on the premises after hours will be penalized, first receiving a warning, followed by fines that increase from $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for the third and any subsequent offenses. Parents of children found to be facing curfew will receive the same penalties. 

There are several exceptions to the curfew, including if the youth is at — or traveling to or from — work. 

Pryce and Dartigue also noted that violent crime in Prince George’s County has been on an overall decline since the mid-1990s, dropping by about 65% from 9,063 violent incidents in 1996 to 3,161 in 2020, according to the open data portal of the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services. 

Alsobrooks fired back at the curfew’s opponents via Twitter, arguing that the curfew was set in response to the county’s residents’ demands that the county take more measures to “protect their children.” Overall, she says, the measure aims to protect children from other children committing violent crime, she said. 

“I live here, I’m from here, and I know the people I represent. I stand in solidarity with these parents, many of whom I have heard from, who have expressed their gratitude for the measures we are taking to try to protect the lives of their children and families. I am not dealing in theory, I am acting as the leader of this community, and as someone who was the chief law enforcement officer of this County,” she wrote.

“I think we can all agree that none of us want to see negative interactions between police and our youth during this curfew. It’s why the first measure our officers will take, if required, is to educate youth on the curfew and tell them to go home. It is our sincerest hope that our parents take their children inside by 10 PM on school nights and midnight on weekends for this 30-day period; and we will work to provide services for the others who remain.”