Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dallas to create specialized prostitution court

It may be the oldest profession, but not many young girls will tell you they want to be prostitutes when they grow up.

Instead, the path that leads them to that point frequently involves poverty, abuse, addiction, or some combination of the three. Often women committing these crimes - particularly on the low end of the economic scale - arguably are the primary victims in the situation in addition to being criminal offenders.

Building on the model established by drug courts, Dallas County will create a new specialty court aimed at prostitution using stronger probation and more aggressive judicial oversight, particularly for chronic offenders. Reports the Dallas Observer ("Courting Hookers," July 10):
Criminal District Judge Lana Myers will preside over the STAR (Strengthening, Transition and Recovery) Court, which will become one of the county's 11 "specialty courts"—those dedicated to handling specific criminal behaviors—and one of the first specialty courts for prostitutes in the country. The court, which opens on July 21, is the brain child of Criminal District Judge John Creuzot, the father of the diversion programs operating in Dallas County, which offer offenders an alternative to incarceration through intense supervision and treatment.

"There are a lot of women who want to come into the normal world and don't want to be prostitutes, but every time they come to the courthouse, it's the same response," Creuzot says. "So what we're trying to do is be more proactive in what it is we're doing to address the underlying issues."

In early 2007, Creuzot approached Myers with his plans for a prostitution court. Although its parameters are still a work in progress, a candidate for STAR Court must having a pending charge for felony prostitution, which means she has already received two prior misdemeanor prostitution convictions. Like two of the county's drug diversion courts—DIVERT Court for first-time drug offenders and Re-entry Court for ex-convict drug offenders—the court will be designed to reduce recidivism and thereby ensure public safety through extensive judicial oversight. Defendants will be subject to intense supervision, both by a probation officer and Myers, who will hold STAR Court every Monday at 3 p.m. The court will use a state grant to pay for the probation officer and a licensed counselor, and it allows for a maximum of 50 cases. Myers says these cases will come from her court and possibly two other criminal district courts.

Myers feels she isn't naïve enough to believe that she's going to get every woman to change. "All I can do is give them the tools that they need and try to closely monitor them on probation so I know what's going on with them," she says. "And before they commit another offense, I'm trying to do everything I can to keep them from taking drugs, keep them off the street and find them housing."

If Myers needs any assistance, she might think about turning to Judge Kevin Sasinoski of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, who, since 2001, has been in charge of a similar court called PRIDE (Program for Reintegration and Development and Empowerment of Exploited Individuals). He sees violators—many with 10 to 15 prostitution offenses—on a monthly basis.

Much like the STAR Court will do, PRIDE works to give prostitutes counseling and drug treatment, along with helping them get jobs and re-establish family relationships. Sasinoski says five women graduated from the year-long program in May, and 11 are scheduled to complete the program in July.

"If we have five women that have gone through the process, turned their lives around with regard to drugs, got some self-esteem back and realize that they matter, then that's a success story," he says. "That's five that might not end up on a street corner."

Not every local official fully embraces the concept of a specialty prostitution court. "I suppose it's the chic thing to do, but every time I look up there is another specialty court," says Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. "That's all well and good as long as it gives benefits and gets results."

If what Price means by "results" is to minimize cost per case, he may be disappointed. Lately that seems to be his primary concern. But if by "benefits" he'd include the notion that stronger probation may give more young women a chance to turn their lives around, these types of focused specialty courts pretty much represent the cutting edge, evidence-based approach most likely to reduce recidivism among chronic offenders.

Some will fail, no doubt, but the failure rate of the current system is unacceptably high. The idea's certainly worth trying. Its success may depend on whether there's enough money for support services and to implement progressive sanctions for probation violators. I'm sure there's both crossover with what's involved in a drug court, and also specialized nuances to managing the group, some of which won't come out until the program is well underway.

Kudos to Dallas Judges Lana Meyers and John Creuzot for spearheading the project.


Ron in Houston said...

It's good to see that people are finally realizing that there are alternatives to just locking people up.

Hopefully this indicates a change in our cultural ethos.

Robert Langham said...

That Prostitute court is likely to be another Black Hole? is that what John Wiley Price is saying?

Just asking.

Anonymous said...

What'll they think of next?


Anonymous said...

These designer courts are nothing more than probation with resources. If probation was adequately funded, there would be no need for these speciality courts.

Anonymous said...

I am all for this. However, I think Judge Crezot is an excellent judge. He looks at potential and tries beyond every visible and possible doubt and scratches thru till he finds the diamond in the ruff. I like his court style and mannerism. I would like to see a little less politics...Commissioner and prostitution is a direct result of either drugs, or I hope there is intense counseling with this intense monitoring. And for the Commissioner, I do understanding seeing visible "benefit" but isn't the "special courts" just for that...even in schools...those that need "smaller groups" for aid in reading, math etc...appear to do alot better as time ticks on. Congrad's Judge Crezot...stay with your people, for your people.

Anonymous said...

Persnickety Panhandle Codger (AKA Charles Kiker) says:

I wish this court didn't have to wait until the third prostitution arrest. Maybe a little intervention earlier would have a better chance of breaking the chaing.

Anonymous said...

Wow--what will they think of next. How innovative. How imaginative. Way to think outside the box. How about a forgery court, or a shoplifter court, or a graffiti court, or a gun court, or a id theft court, or a driving with no insurance court, or a sexual asault court or a evading arrest court?? The possibilities are limitless.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'd argue the difference between this and your facetious examples, 11:45, is that prostitution, like extremist drug addiction, has some very particular sociological aspects to it that aren't so common to the other offenses named. Also, very few counties would have the volume of cases to justify such a court, but in large cities where the situation is pervasive and chronic, stronger probation supplemented with services is the way to go, and these specialty courts are the best vehicle discovered so far for doing that, for good or ill

Anonymous said...

Isn't Prostitution a Sexually Deviant Crime as mandated under one of the named Children's law? If so, why aren't these people being handled like the true hardened criminals that they are and put on the Registry where they belong. We all know that sexually deviant people cannot be treated and after they are off probation they will immediately go back to 'hooking' because we ALL know that since they are breaking sex crimes laws that treatment nor anything that they do will be for the betterment of society at large. Death Penalty for Prostitution!!! Won't anyone think about the Children!!!! aw two more !!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the prior post is scarcasm. Has to be because no one is that ignorant anymore. ........are they?

btweenus2005 said...

Well, let's see...where do I begin with this. For the most part I'm reading some great compassion and understanding for the plight of women involved with prostitution. On the other hand, for a few here there is a terrible misjudgement of the character and cicumstances for most women involved in sexually oriented businesses. I, too work for an organization that helps women to leave sexually oriented businesses. I applaud this program for many reasons...the most important is that it will address the problem from a social and rehabilitative perspective vs crime and punishment.

For most of the women who are involved in our program, the most difficult aspect to overcome is trying to get a job, find a place to live and take care of children they may have not seen in years - try doing this with 9 felony convictions of prostitution. It is very, very difficult if not next to impossible. I could go on, but I am totally in agreement witht his program and would love to lend my professional experience and perspective to make it work.

Crusty said...

I'm kind of late to the party, but thought I'd add this rather quickly... Prostitution is a social problem, not a criminal problem. I do not believe that any criminalization ever has nor ever will have any impact on reduction or of helping those involved. As much as I disagree with prostitution itself, I believe it should be completely decriminalized. LE resources should focus on criminal activities such as sexual slavery and underage prostitution. At the same time we all need to fully support NGO's who are helping those who want to leave the prostitution industry to do so SUCCESSFULLY.

Anonymous said...

100% Pure Politcal Bull$hit

In order to qualify for her majesty's court, the prostitute must have a diagnosed mental illness AND be diagnosed in need of drug treatment. I hate to burst your political feel-good bubble, but not every prostitute is junkie psycho. Many are women who are simply trying to make a buck.

Lavario is scaming you people. She's in this for an ego boost on her part, and nothing more.