California Felons Get Alternative to Prison

Officials in Oakland thought they had come up with a simple idea to punish some felons who were busted for committing crimes after the sun goes down: force them to stay off the streets at night.

Beginning late last year, and at the district attorney's discretion, people pleading guilty to nighttime felonies are given a choice between jail time or several years of probation with a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew, the hours when 70 percent of Oakland's (search) most violent crimes occur.

But critics contend the curfew will just lead to more arrests because, they argue, no adult can stay inside his or her home — every night — for three to five years.

So far, 57 felons have chosen curfew over jail. But civil rights activists said the curfew is like house arrest and the restrictions may backfire.

"These people go to parties, you know, they go out to dinner, they go to the movies, they come back after 11 o'clock, after 12,"said criminal defense attorney John Burris (search). "You are placing an onerous restriction on these people, and all you're really gonna do is create more criminals."

Pete Dunbar, Oakland's deputy police chief, acknowledged that those affected can't do things "normal people" do. "But maybe they need to think about that before they commit their original crime. You don't commit the crime, you don't have to worry about the curfew," he said.

As they patrol Oakland's hot spots, police said the only exceptions to the curfew are probationers who work the night shift or have an emergency.

Click on the video box above for a complete report by Fox News' Claudia Cowan.