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Dallas prostitutes given alternative to jail--on public's dime

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For the past two years Dallas has been offering prostitutes publicly funded rehabilitation programs as an alternative to jail—and despite limited success, other cities may soon follow suit in the costly venture.

The city’s Prostitution Diversion Initiative entails a once-a-month camp-out of four command trucks, a mobile courtroom and health care clinic, multiple police officers and social workers and a judge, according to an Associated Press article. This coterie sets up shop in a vacant lot near truck stops that provide the bulk of the prostitutes’ business and for eight hours every four weeks, officers question prostitutes and confiscate their property. If the prostitutes have no felony warrants the judge gives them the option of doing a 45-day, in-patient rehabilitation program, followed by “help” with education, child care and housing.

A nice idea, and one that several hundred cities have reportedly expressed interest in replicating, but has it made a difference? In a word, no. According to the article, just half of the approximately 375 prostitutes taken in during these monthly stings have chosen the rehab program over jail, and only about 21 of them have left prostitution and changed their lives. That’s a success rate of less than 6 percent, and at an approximate cost, if we consider national averages a fair frame of reference, of at least $7,000 in taxpayer money per person per month. That’s not counting the expense of the traveling anti-prostitution team. 

We are not saying jail time is the most effective deterrent against prostitution; many prostitutes have been incarcerated for their profession on more than one occasion. What we are saying is rehab—especially given its high cost to the public—doesn’t look like an effective deterrent, either. 

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Anath Hartmann

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