The Compassionate Court?: Support, Surveillance, and Survival in Prostiution Diversion Programs

The Compassionate Court?
Support, Surveillance, and Survival in Prostitution Diversion Programs
Corey S. Shdaimah, Chrysanthi S. Leon, and Shelly A. Wiechelt

Laws subject people who perform sex work to arrest and prosecution. The Compassionate Court? assesses two prostitution diversion programs (PDPs) that offer to “rehabilitate” people arrested for street-based sex work as an alternative to incarceration. However, as the authors show, these PDPs often fail to provide sustainable alternatives to their mandated clients. Participants are subjected to constant surveillance and obligations, which creates a paradox of responsibility in conflict with the system’s logic of rescue. Moreover, as the participants often face shame and re-traumatization as a price for services, poverty and other social problems, such as structural oppression, remain in place.

The authors of The Compassionate Court? provide case studies of such programs and draw upon interviews and observations conducted over a decade to reveal how participants and professionals perceive court-affiliated PDPs, clients, and staff. Considering the motivations, vision, and goals of these programs as well as their limitations—the inequity and disempowerment of their participants—the authors also present their own changing perspectives on prostitution courts, diversion programs, and criminalization of sex work.

Blog Posts: 

The problem with prostitution problem solving

Visting Project Dawn Court

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Since the 1990s, the U.S. has seen a rise in problem-solving courts, which attempt to address criminalized behavior in non-traditional ways. Prostitution diversion programs are a type of problem-solving court that use a team approach to address underlying issues of individuals facing prostitution charges. This study is a follow-up to a previous study that examined the evolution and application of two new prostitution diversion programs in two cities. Since the original study ended in 2014, the climate of prostitution prosecution has changed in both places. To better understand lessons learned from those prostitution diversion programs, this retrospective qualitative study is being conducted. The study includes interviews with criminal legal system stakeholders (such as lawyers, community partners, and therapists) who were central to the development and implementation of those programs and with program graduates.

People Involved in this Project: Corey Shdaimah; Nancy D. Franke; Inbar Cohen

Publications: JUSTifying Scrutiny: State Power in Prostitution Diversion ProgramsConverging on Empathy: Perspectives on Baltimore City's Specialized Prostitution Diversion Program; "First and Foremost They're Survivors": Selective Manipulation, Resilience, and Assertion Among Prostitute Women; "We'll Take the Tough Ones": Expertise in Problem-Solving Justice"I Have Different Goals Than you, we Can't be a Team": Navigating the Tensions of a Courtroom Workgropu in a Prostitution Diversion Program

People in Mandated Sex Offender Treatment

People convicted of sex offenses are often required to engage in mandatory sex offender treatment (SOT). SOT therapists are required to report updates to parole or probation officers and judges working with that individual. This study explores the way that service providers and parole officers working with people mandated to SOT balance therapeutic services with punitive aspects of the criminal legal system. It will explore how professionals’ understanding of and empathy for participants changes and how clinicians navigate ethical decisions around disclosure to criminal legal system partners.

Police-Initiated Diversion: Systematic Literature Review

Police diversion programs have developed as a response to a range of policing and community challenges as jurisdictions search for common sense solutions to overburdened police departments and criminal courts, high arrest and incarceration rates, and high police contact with vulnerable populations. Treatment of people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorders by police has come under particular scrutiny. This systematic literature review carefully examined the current state of research to evaluate what is known about police-initiated diversion programs in terms of programmatic components and effectiveness, and to determine next steps for this field.

Drug Decriminalization in Baltimore

Decriminalization of small quantities of psychoactive substances for personal use, referred to as “decrim,” is one mode of modern reform. Public health scholarship endorses the uptake of decrim practices as a vehicle for reducing the harms associated with drug use, however, a Euro-centric model of drug criminalization alone risks reproducing racial inequality in the U.S., given the inherent anti-black systems of criminal legal control already in place. Understanding the role of drug criminalization on disrupting the social fabric of communities is essential to the development of new visions of drug policies and understanding how new policies may ameliorate or exacerbate racial oppressions. A team of researchers partnered with a racial justice advocacy organization to conduct a mixed-methods research project that describe how systems of drug criminalization influence aspects of community well-being and community-driven drug treatment supports. Alongside a scoping review of published literature, experiences of community-owned treatment and healing supports are being captured through a series of qualitative reports to think through the investment strategies embedded within structural arrangements of drug systems and policies. As the country progresses with drug policy developments, we hope the research and policy work in Maryland will help shape drug decriminalization dialogue and future decriminalization campaigns that undergirds critical race consciousness for reparations of the War on Drugs.

B’More Reconnects

Baltimore City’s institutional and structural poverty and racism contribute to high rates of incarceration: 47% of households are below the ALICE poverty threshold, substantial racial differences persist in both mortality and morbidity based on race in Baltimore City, and 90% of Baltimore City residents who are incarcerated in State prison are Black. These disparities are compounded by high rates of incarceration in some of Baltimore City’s most impoverished neighborhoods: 25% of individuals who are incarcerated from Baltimore City come from just five communities. About 20,000 children in Baltimore have at least one parent who is currently incarcerated or on probation or parole. B’More Reconnects is supporting parents who are currently and previously incarcerated by providing parenting skill development. More About B'More Reconnects

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