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How the Juvenile Curfew Harmed Me and Why it Hurts Families

Though I’m well past my teen years and am a mom now, I am still scarred by my experience with the juvenile justice system and the Houston juvenile curfew ordinance. Everything that I do — from how I raise my children to how I simply move through the world — is influenced by how I felt targeted by the police in my youth simply for being black and young. At first glance, the curfew ordinance seems like good policy, but the truth is Houston’s juvenile curfew ordinance is harmful and sets off a domino effect of bad outcomes. The curfew gets in the way of police building trusting relationships with communities and criminalizes kids instead of helping them. 

Due to my high school’s block scheduling and the number of credits I had already acquired, there were times during the school day — when the daytime curfew is in place — that I did not need to be on campus. Despite this, the school police would constantly follow my friends and me to our hangout spots right off of campus, which made us feel harassed and singled out for being youth of color. I felt there was nowhere where we could just be ourselves.  A friend was cited with a curfew violation for being right outside of his house at night when he was 16. Despite there being an exception in the law for being at home, he was still given a curfew violation. 

Now, as a mother to an 11-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, the juvenile curfew continues to haunt me. It is not that I’m okay with my children being out late at night; I am absolutely not okay with that. If my children feel that they need to be away from home late at night, that is a problem that needs to be solved at home, not in the criminal justice system. We must remember there are all types of situations that kids are in, like teenagers who are working late, kids who are homeless, kids who are running away from abusive homes and kids who simply lost track of time playing video games at a friend’s house.  We don’t need to criminalize children to keep them safe; officers can instead connect kids with resources throughout Houston to help them.

The curfew ordinance pushes kids into the criminal justice system, and what that means is startling: A juvenile curfew violation is a Class C misdemeanor, so kids must go to adult municipal court — not a juvenile court — with no guaranteed legal representation. That’s not all. The ordinance has a hefty fine that is a major setback for a lot of families, and it mandates families attend court, which can result in parents losing wages from having to take off work. Warrants can be issued, and children can be left with an adult criminal record. This criminal record can follow them for years to come, keeping them from educational opportunities, jobs, and enlisting in the military.  I know firsthand how being involved with the criminal justice system can make some dreams and plans unreachable. It is time for the Houston City Council to let the outdated curfew ordinance expire and use community solutions to help our young people.

Kimberly Trishell is a youth advocate

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