Saturday, January 29, 2011

Might budget crisis prompt rethinking of prostitution punishments?

Texas Watchdog says Texas could save $8 million per year by incarcerating fewer prostitutes, joining the overwhelming majority of other states that don't treat the offense as a felony, even after multiple offenses. Their post reacted to an excellent KHOU piece on using strong probation through a specialty court to divert repeat prostitutes from prison, and more generally, the life.

Some jurisdictions - in the Lone Star State, notably Dallas, which created its own specialized prostitution court - are have begun to pioneer new approaches to this problem that treat prostitutes, particularly juveniles, more as human trafficking victims than criminals, providing evidence-based supervision, services and assistance changing their lifestyle instead of only punishment. It won't always work, but neither does the traditional "catch and release" approach. State Sen. John Whitmire recently mentioned that about 300 women were locked up in TDCJ for prostitution, citing them among potential candidates for reducing inmate numbers. If the Legislature reduced felony penalties for prostitution and used some of the savings to fund specialty courts and/or dockets along the models in Dallas and now Houston, it'd be both cheaper and a lot better public policy.

See related Grits posts:

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