Police officers and health care providers soon will give prostitutes an option to get off the streets and find help.The news was welcomed by the Caller Times editorial board, which concluded:
Instead of jail time, law enforcement plan to work with county health care officials and judges to provide social services and health screens for people accused of prostitution.
Police Chief Floyd Simpson said the idea is modeled after a program he saw while working in Dallas, where police and medical staff set up mobile clinics in areas with the most prolific prostitution rates.
Known prostitutes were screened for diseases and offered options to find a legitimate job, go back to school, or receive mental health care instead of jail time.
"We're trying a different approach rather than just arresting them again and again," he said.
The shifting attitude of law enforcement is a welcome about-face from the hard line encouraged by a state law passed in 2001 allowing felony prison time for a third prostitution conviction. All that did was clog the system at a high cost. The Simpson/Dallas solution is compassionate but also pragmatic.Such programs are a welcome change from the sorts of anti-prostitution stings we usually see, like the one recently reported by WOAI in San Antonio. That story quoted a business owner in the area where SAPD conducted labor-intensive undercover stings last month, and "while he is glad the activity has recently slowed down he said it won't last." “It's usually a temporary thing that it slows down for awhile when I guess the cops get tough on them and then it starts all over again,” he said, presciently.
As Jason Boland says in his song about a stripper, "it's all about the money," and society saves a lot of it by not arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating. The American-Statesman's Mike Ward reported last summer that incarceration in a state prison for a year costs $18,538, or $15,500 in a lower-security state jail, but enrolling the prostitute in a community-based program for a year costs $4,300.
That's a simple equation that tough-on-crime sticklers should take into consideration: Treating prostitutes as criminals costs quadruple the price of helping them rejoin society.
There's something poetic in those mathematics, considering that society's treatment of them as throwaway people is what pushed most of them into their unfortunate circumstance in the first place.
This is a rare case where turning around one life makes the whole program worthwhile on at least three levels — heart, soul and pocketbook.
It's been said a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result; to the extent that's the case, the traditional law enforcement approaches to prostitution are clearly insane. So it's great that Dallas has pioneered a service-based approach to prostitution diversion, and I'm glad to see other jurisdictions are considering following their lead.
At the Legislature, a quick check finds three bills filed so far related to prostitution: HB 32 by Menendez is an enhancement for pimps, as though passing harsher laws ever succeeded at eliminating the "oldest profession." And HB 90 by Senfronia Thompson would create broad civil liability for pimps, an approach which to me seems laughable given that most all of them would likely be judgment proof.
The only bill so far building on the Dallas diversion model is HB 91 by Rep. Thompson, which would create a "pre-adjudication diversion program" for juvenile prostitutes, mirroring the approach Dallas and Corpus Christi are pursuing. Grits sees no reason to limit such a approach to juveniles, but that bill would be a good start.