Report from the Field: Prostitution

From Resource Coordinator Carrie Potts:

Since I began working here in June, one of my focuses has been on implementing Bronx Community Solutions' ongoing prostitution initiative which aims to identify and assist women engaged in the lifestyle of prostitution here in the Bronx who come in contact with the justice system. Click Here to read more.

Before we started working to address the issue, the options available to judges when they were presented with an arrest for prostitution were very limited: either release the defendant, sentence them to a short amount of time in jail, or in some cases, order them to participate in drug treatment as an alternative to jail. As social workers, we're aware that for many women involved in prostitution, leaving the lifestyle is a difficult and complicated process that requires peer counseling and supportive services including safe housing, employment training, and financial counseling, as well as substance abuse and mental health treatment in some cases.

Recently, we worked with two cases that encouraged us to keep pressing our efforts, as they have been neglected by the criminal justice system for so long. Both of these cases presented unique challenges, so our staff pulled together as a team to design creative sentences that addressed each client’s individual needs.

Our first client spoke of being ready to get out of the life, but it was clear that her substance abuse issues were a major roadblock for her, and contributed to her lifestyle. We were able to connect her to a 28-day detoxification/rehabilitation facility, through Liberty Behavioral Management Corporation, which would allow her to stabilize herself mentally and physically in a medically safe and emotionally supportive environment. In order to remain engaged after her completion of the rehabilitation program, also made sure that her sentence included four days of follow-up counseling here at Bronx Community Solutions on-site social service department. These will consist of not only groups, but also one-on-one meetings with a case manager, to allow for more candid conversations on how her life is progressing, now that she has completed a 28 day program.

Bronx Community Solutions has worked hard to establish and maintain solid relationships with our social service partners, so that when their services are needed, they are available and clients won’t have to wait. For this client, this was a vital part of the process. The facility was able to pick her up from the court house and take her straight to their campus within a few hours of her release from court. As she was leaving the courthouse, she was reflecting on the last few days, and stated that she was really glad she was going to the facility because it would allow for some clarity. She realized that if she were going home, she would fall back into the same habits, which would result in another arrest, and the cycle of the streets to jail and back to the streets would only continue.

Our second client was known to the police precinct in which she was arrested, as she has been in the life for many years. Upon meeting with her, it became clear that there were many underlying issues that had never been addressed, but were clearly impacting her life on a daily basis. The most important issue to address was her mental health diagnosis. She reported that she had been on psychiatric medications for many years, but never had a steady treatment provider but instead, went to a city emergency room for medication. The secondary issue was her use of alcohol, which was often used as a form of self-medication in lieu of psychiatric medications. Based upon this assessment, our treatment plan focused on what it would take for her to lead a more productive and healthy life—namely a steady connection with a psychiatrist as well as substance abuse treatment. After discussion with the district attorney, her defense attorney and the judge, all parties were in agreement that another jail sentence would not help this client, but that now was the time for an intensive intervention which Bronx Community Solutions would monitor for compliance. We were able to connect this client with an out patient treatment program that would address both her mental health and substance abuse at the same time.

Both of these women have taken an incredibly difficult and important first step towards getting out of the lifestyle of prostitution. They both recognized that there are many factors contributing to their involvement with the criminal justice system and Bronx Community Solutions was able to play an active role in introducing alternatives to incarceration. We will continue to design creative sentences which will address a wide range of issues faced by our clients, particularly within this subset of our population.

As we head into the Fall, our focus on prostitution is beginning a new chapter, which will utilize all of our services and partnerships in an effort to reach out to this population so that they know alternatives are available.

We also hope that our efforts will help improve public safety and neighborhood quality of life. Several police precincts have recently reached out to us for assistance with increased problems related to prostitution activity, and it's our role to ensure that arrests lead to meaningful outcomes instead of just a trip through central bookings and then back out onto the street and the same situation, and by coordinating our community service efforts to clean up the dumping, neglect, and graffiti at hotspots where prostitution is occuring.