Corey Shdaimah, a professor at the University of Maryland, explored programs designed to steer prostitutes out of prison and away from criminal behavior during a discussion on Oct. 8.
Shdaimah, who studies diversion programs that guide prostitutes toward social services that can help them, came at the invitation of the Mental Health Law Society, the Women’s Law Society and the Criminal Law Society.
Baltimore’s Specialized Prostitution Diversion program enables arrestees to delay entering pleas for a 90-day period during which time they meet with social workers, undergo drug treatment and engage in other activities designed to get their lives on track.
In Philadelphia’s Project Dawn Court, women are not eligible until they have entered a plea, waiving their right to a presumption of innocence. Those who complete the year-long program successfully can seek to have the charges dismissed and expunged.
Law enforcement officials in some cities support diversion programs, Shdaimah said, since they see firsthand how the process of arresting and prosecuting prostitutes accomplishes little.
“Most prostitutes are involved in survival prostitution, coerced by economic circumstances, drug addiction or other things and would prefer not to be doing it,” Shdaimah said. “Deterrence is problematic.”
There is little data so far to indicate how effective the diversion programs are, Shdaimah said, noting the persistence of underlying social and economic circumstances that lead many to enter prostitution.