Texas Is Rethinking Its Awful Prostitution LawS

Texas, the state that's so stubborn it literally has a monument to stubbornness (the Alamo), may reconsider something, and that something is a 2001 law that allows prosecutors to charge prostitutes with a felony and send them to prison after three misdemeanor convictions. According to the American Statesman, Texas has more than 350 prostitutes languishing in its state prisons, many of them casualties of a crackdown on truck stop and street prostitution in and around Dallas.

State officials have realized, however, that it's pretty expensive to keep people locked away in prison, especially if they're not violent criminals. It costs $18,538 to house a convict in a state prison for just one year, and $15,500 in a lower security state jail. For about one fourth of the cost ($4,300/year), nonviolent, low-level criminals can enter community-based rehabilitation programs, which, especially in the case of prostitution, are much more effective at breaking the cycles of drug dependency that keep many prostitutes from escaping the streets. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston — who, by-the-by, voted for the 2001 law — acknowledges how pointless it is to incarcerate prostitutes, many of who are victims of violence and addiction themselves. Says Whitmire,

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. 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.

At least lawmakers are backtracking, no small feat anywhere, least of all Texas. It's just too bad that this new social awareness is too late to help Mona and the gang avoid closing down the Chicken Ranch.

Texas rethinks law making prostitution a repeat felony [American Statesman]