The Way Dallas Deals with Prostitutes Could Become a Model for the State

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Mark Graham
In 2007, Dallas County came to the realization that throwing hookers in jail, as was the standard practice, was an expensive and not-very-effective way of addressing prostitution. So police, courts, and health providers teamed up to develop the Prostitution Diversion Initiative, a program aimed at treating women rather than punishing them as criminals.

During the program's first four years, police contacted 728 prostitutes, about a quarter of whom were both eligible and opted to enroll in residential treatment. About half of those made it out of the program and weren't rearrested for prostitution, saving an estimated $62,000 in jail and court costs, according to the initiative's most recent annual report.

It's a surprisingly progressive program, funding for which commissioners recently renewed despite John Wiley Price's odd reference to men who pay for sex as "sponsors." But it hasn't caught on in the rest of the state.

It may soon have to. Texas Senate Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, filed a bill yesterday that would make prostitution diversion programs like Dallas' mandatory for counties with 200,000 or more residents.

Details would be left up to local governments, but the bill outlines the basic elements: a specialty prostitution court with the authority to dismiss criminal prostitution charges upon completion of a treatment program.

"It's nuts that we've got this many prostitutes in prison, people that we're not afraid of, but we're just mad at," Whitmire told the Austin American-Statesman in August. "By locking them up, we're not fixing the problem -- we're just spending a lot of money incarcerating them, warehousing them, when we could be spending a lot less getting them treatment so they can get out and stay out of this business."

That quote was in reference to Whitmire's push to repeal the 2001 law that made third-offense prostitution a state jail felony, but it applies equally well here.

And while neither changing the criminal classification of prostitution or mandating treatment programs will end prostitution, they should help. And they're certainly more rational than the status quo.


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9 comments
titusgroan
titusgroan

We're going after the wrong people.  Go after the "sponsors" and reduce demand.

eleventeen
eleventeen

"It's nuts that we've got this many prostitutes in prison, people that we're not afraid of, but we're just mad at,". Hmmmm,  substitute "pot smokers" for "prostitutes", and it sounds like a whole lot of people that i know. my felonious self included.

xmantx
xmantx

why is it illegal anyway? waste of taxpayers money and our police force time. Much better things to take care of.

manpanties
manpanties

could save even more money if they just left the prostitutes alone entirely.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@titusgroan why "go after" any of them.  Two consenting adults activities are not the gov'ts business, abortion, and guns too

titusgroan
titusgroan

Prostitutes are usually out there because their pimp is forcing them to with threats of violence, withholding food, etc.  That doesn't sound like she's really consenting.

And also, prostitutes often start underage, which negates the adult part of your argument.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@titusgroan keeping prostitution in the dark, in black markets seems a great way to keep that trepidation in the dark.  Legalize drugs, and legalize prostitution.  That won't eliminate all the problems inherent in these activities, but it will help us focus on the problems, not the least problematic part.  Further, it will make it easier for those abused, and hurt by these markets to seek help.  They won't fear legal consequences, when the real life consequences are substantial enough. 

blurgblarg
blurgblarg

@titusgroan I wouldn't say that's the case of all prostitutes but the street prostitutes who get arrested regularly are likely to be dealing with abusive pimps and drug addiction, this program sounds great. I don't have a problem with prostitution -I think it should be legal and regulated- but as it stands, street prostitutes are so vulnerable.  There are always going to be men buying sex but they shouldn't be able to prey on desperate women with no legal protections.

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