AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The expense of housing hundreds of prisoners with prostitution records could force Texas to reconsider a state law that allows prosecutors to charge prostitutes with a felony after three misdemeanor convictions
The Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday that more than 350 prostitutes currently occupy bunks in state prisons, and some officials are wondering whether that makes sense.
"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," state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told the newspaper. All the state is doing is "warehousing" people who would be better served getting treatment "so they can get out and stay out of this business," he added.
The law in question was enacted in 2001 when Texas lawmakers had the mentality of locking up all types of offenders after three strikes. It was also designed to clear up Dallas' problem with truck stop and street prostitution.
But the issue is expected to return when the Legislature meets in January as officials seek to save money and be smarter in dealing with crime.
According to the newspaper, it costs between $15,500 and $18,538 a year to house a convict in a state prison or lower-security jail. By contrast, community-based rehabilitation programs cost about $4,300 a year.
Melissa Farley, who heads the San Francisco-based Prostitution Research and Education organization, said Texas is the only state she's aware of that makes prostitution a felony.
"Jail is simply not the place for these women," she said.
Kathryn Griffin-Townsend is a former prostitute and cocaine addict who now leads a treatment program at the Lucile Plane State Jail in Dayton, Texas. She says prostitution is "a revolving door that can be stopped," and she tries to help offenders kick substance abuse and find jobs and places to live.
One such woman is Beatryce Hall, who's been busted for prostitution 32 times in 17 years. Hall, 42, says she made between $300 and $400 a night as a prostitute but "couldn't get out of that cycle."
Hall says Griffin-Townsend's program has been beneficial, and she doesn't want to return to prison once she gets out in November.
"I've got to change everything about me," Hall told the newspaper.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com