A 2001 Texas law 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. Now, with more than 350 prostitutes 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, reports the Austin American-Statesman. 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.
At a time when the state is are looking to save money and be smarter on crime, the issue is expected to be on the agenda when the Legislature convenes in January — another example of Texas’ push for additional treatment and rehabilitation that began five years ago and has helped drive a decline in the prison population. “These women should not be taking up expensive prison beds,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who said the felony prostitution law had broad support and that he voted for it. “It’s nuts that we’ve got this many prostitutes in prison, people that we’re not afraid of, but we’re just mad at,” he said. “By locking them up, we’re not fixing the problem — we’re just spending a lot of money incarcerating them, warehousing them, when we could be spending a lot less getting them treatment so they can get out and stay out of this business.”