There was a piece recently over at the Austin American Statesman that looked at the unintended and expensive consequence of a Texas law that makes repeat prostitution arrests a felony.
Many of those trips were courtesy of a 2001 Texas law that allowed prosecutors to charge prostitutes with a felony and send them to a state lockup after three misdemeanor prostitution convictions. The law was designed to clear up chronic problems with truck-stop and street hookers in Dallas.I understand peoples' frustration with street prostitutes such as the "lot lizards" who prowl truck stop parking lots. Street prostitution and associated activities are a significant blight on a community and often are a secondary crime generator. As well intentioned as the law was, it has not stopped or even put a dent in prostitution plagued areas.
But now, with more than 350 prostitutes — most from Houston and Dallas — occupying bunks in the state prison system, and dozens more serving time for drug and theft charges related to the sex trade, questions are being raised about whether the enhanced criminal charge is a waste of money. For about one-fourth the cost, such nonviolent, low-level criminals could be rehabilitated in community-based programs aimed at curing their addictions to alcohol and drugs.
I can still remember when we charged our first frequent flyer prostitute with a felony after the law was enacted. In spite of her shock (which led to a screaming wall-eyed hissy fit in the back of a patrol car) at being charged with a felony, that shock was short lived when she was back on the streets in less that a couple of years plying her trade on the very same streets she did before. In the case of drug addicted prostitutes, arrest alone is not a very effective deterrent.
The Center For Problem Oriented Policing has one of their excellent POP Guides that examines approaches to combating a street prostitution problem. If your community is facing this problem, reading the guide is highly recommended.