Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.E-mail: email@example.com
Rather than treating prostitutes as criminals, police are treating them as sex trade victims, and giving some the chance to get clean and off the streets.
In Dallas, it's unknown how many men and women engage in prostitution, but street prostitution alone results in several thousand arrests a year. It's a revolving door too: The same men and women jailed and released on probation one year, are out on the streets being rearrested the next. A new approach to the world's oldest profession, however, is hoping to reverse that trend. In 2007, the Dallas Police Department launched the Prostitution Diversion Initiative. The program considers prostitutes sex trade victims, and offers them a multi-step in-patient and out-patient treatment program instead of a criminal record. Once a month, police set up a staging area, roundup prostitutes, confiscate their property and interview them for information about criminal activity. Afterwards, social service workers assess if a prostitute needs STD testing, medical care and drug, alcohol and mental health counseling. Finally, they go before a judge, and as long as they have no felony warrants and seem sincere are given the opportunity to avoid jail and enter rehab. The program's success has been modest at best: Of the 185 out of 375 women that have chosen rehab, just 21 have turned their lives around. But police see long-term value in the program. It has not only helped them develop leads in unsolved cases but has helped women learn to trust officers. Several cities are considering replicating the initiative, and there are similar programs in Phoenix and Washington, D.C. For more information regarding the PDI, download its first annual report, or contact Sergeant Louis Felini of the Dallas Police Department.