Texas is preparing to take a major step in reforming its prostitution laws, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Several measures which are moving through the Legislature would reduce the crime of prostitution from a felony to a misdemeanor and order treatment and counseling, not jail time, for offenders.
Ana Yanez-Correa, who heads the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which has been pushing for reform of the state's prostitution laws, says the only result of the current law, mandating prison sentences of up to five years for people convicted of prostitution, is huge costs to the taxpayer for felony prosecution and incarceration, with no impact on the number of hookers on the streets, and no change in the miserable lives of the prostitutes.
"Many of these woman, and men, have been violated, they have been sexually assaulted, they have mental health and substance abuse problems, they are homeless," she said.
She says researchers have shown that, more than any other criminal, prostitutes will leave their unpleasant lifestyle if they have opportunities in other areas. But Yanez-Correa says current laws actually make it a lot more difficult for that to happen.
"After they are convicted as a felon, they have a 'scarlet P' on their foreheads," he said. "You can't get that job, you can't the tools that you need to live responsibility to get out of that horrible lifestyle."
She points out that the proposals being discussed would not 'legalize' prostitution,' it would still be a crime, but they would remove the 'collateral consequences' of a felony conviction.
She stresses that counseling and treatment would be mandatory, and convicted prostitutes who refuse to undergo the treatment could still get jail time. But she says the bills would 'offer individuals a viable exit from the business, while helping them avoid the devastating, lifelong consequences of a conviction.'
"Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, hey, today I'm going to become a prostitute!" Yanez Correa says.