Civil Liberties

Texas Counties Say No to 'Prostitution Diversion' Mandate



Several Texas counties are opting out of a state law requiring the launch of controversial "prostitution diversion" programs. The 2013 law ordered counties with more than 200,000 people to start such programs and, in some counties, has spawned a robust cycle of police stings and social-services meddling aimed at "treating prostitutes like victims rather than criminals".

The state allowed for counties to apply for a waiver, however, and Dallas-neighboring Collin and Denton Counties did so soon after the law's passing. "It's just not an issue in Denton County," Judge Mary Horn told The Dallas Morning News. "We have not and we will not be doing anything on this."

"We have not and we will not be doing anything on this." Aren't those beautiful words to hear coming from a state official? But of course not everyone's taking kindly to this laissez-faire attitude toward the sex lives of others. Proponents of the diversion programs seem to think Collin and Denton county officials are being Pollyanna-ish about the problem: 

Renee Breazeale, a senior case manager in the Dallas County district attorney's office who started the program in 2007 with Dallas police Sgt. Louis Fellini, said she also isn't surprised by counties opting out. "We're a metropolitan area, so we're a little more open-minded," Breazeale said. "If you're in a community that doesn't really kind of force those issues forward, it's really easy to say, 'No, that doesn't exist here.'" 

In "open-minded" places like Dallas, monthly sting operations serve as the cornerstone of the program: 

Police go out and round up women and bring them back to a staging area, where they receive information, counseling and a run through the legal process.

As with similar programs in Arizona and New York City, those who meet certain criteria can opt for a "rehab" program instead of jail time. In contrast, the oh-so-backward folk of Denton and Collin counties seem to think that setting up special task forces and elaborate operations to ferret out people who may be having sex for money is a bit silly: 

Officials in Denton and Collin counties say that prostitutes, if they are in their jurisdictions, aren't at the street level. They are hidden from view in brothels or on posts on websites such as Craigslist and Busting those prostitutes requires more proactive and lengthy investigations, police officials say.

(…) Plano police spokesman David Tilley said they only occasionally get complaints about a lone prostitute roaming the streets. And, he said, "getting one every so often doesn't really justify putting anyone to look at those things on a regular basis."

"I kind of have to agree with Collin County on this that it's not a problem that has reached a level where putting together a group would get a lot of attention or a lot of traction—at least in our city," Tilley said.

It's not much, but… in what's generally an endless stream of cities, counties, and states competing to overhype the problem of prostitution—and the need for ever-increasing state power and resources to combat it—any slight nod to reality is noteworthy and refreshing.