OLR Research Report

December 18, 2008




By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked for a description of programs in other jurisdictions to combat prostitution.


A number of major cities, including Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Portland (Oregon), San Bernardino (California), San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have implemented programs to combat prostitution. Most of these programs focus on the prostitute. The programs in Dallas, Phoenix, and Washington include counseling and other social services for prostitutes in conjunction with enforcement initiatives. Courts in San Bernardino have incorporated provisions of the municipal code, e.g., those barring people from blocking traffic, into court-ordered civil injunctions against known prostitutes. Prostitutes violating the injunctions are subject to higher penalties than the usual penalties for prostitution. Miami's program gives prostitutes the alternative of agreeing to stay away from areas with high levels of prostitution activity instead of going to jail. Portland initially established zones where persons arrested for or convicted of prostitution-related crimes were barred from being in parks, roads, or other public rights of way. The city allowed this provision to sunset, and subsequently entered into an agreement with the county to provide social services to prostitutes city-wide. San Francisco's program focuses on the men who frequent prostitutes, educating them on the harm caused by prostitution. This approach has been used in a number of other cities.


In July 2008, state District Judge Lana Myers started the STAR (Strengthening, Transition, and Recovery) Court to help get habitual prostitutes off the streets. Women arrested for prostitution who participate in the program must attend weekly meetings that also include defense attorneys, licensed counselors, and probation officers. The women also must participate in specialized counseling and drug rehabilitation. All of the participants have at least two misdemeanor convictions for prostitution, which means they would have been imprisoned if they had not entered the program.


In 2003, Miami implemented a prostitution mapping programming, which is intended to help eliminate prostitution in the city. In cooperation with the state attorney's office, the police department has worked to designate certain areas frequented by prostitutes as prostitution zones. Prostitution mapping has identified four zones in the city and police officers are assigned to specifically target the problem in those areas. When prostitutes are arrested, they are held for bond hearings but can be released on bond of $2,000. Convicted offenders can choose to go to jail or, as part of a probationary sentence, sign a document committing to stay away from the area for between three and six months unless they live, work in legal employment, or conduct legitimate business or other personal affairs not related to prostitution in the area. The period for which they are required to stay away from the zone varies depending upon the prostitute's arrest history. Police officers enforce the program by using computer printouts with accompanying pictures of the offending prostitutes. Offenders who engage in prostitution, whether or not they participate in the program, are subject to rearrest and conviction, with mandatory jail time.

Convicted prostitutes who choose to participate in the program are given non-reporting probationary sentences. They must take an HIV/AIDS test and participate in HIV/AIDS awareness education program. Police can arrest prostitute who participate in the program on site if they are found to be engaging in prostitution in the zone subsequent to the probation.


DIGNITY, which has operated in the city since 1997, is operated by Catholic Charities and funded by the city. The program is designed to help prostitutes break away from prostitution. It focuses on outreach, jail, diversion, and residential assistance. Staff members go into the community where there is frequent prostitution activity to offer information on resources to women and children. An education program offers weekly two-hour sessions in the Estrella Jail for women who seek support in leaving prostitution. The diversion program is an alternative to jail for those arrested for solicitation in the city. It is a 36-hour, intensive, educational approach designed to move individuals from prostitution to productive societal integration. DIGNITY House and DIGNITY @ Sundance are year-long residential programs for women 18 years and older. These women participate in an intensive recovery program that includes emotional support, life skills, education, counseling, drug and alcohol recovery, case management, and employment.

The city has also established a hotline (phone and e-mail) for residents to report prostitution and other vice directly to the police department. The department's vice squads also work closely with the City Law Office as a member of the Sexually Oriented Business Task Force. The task force includes representatives of city agencies and seeks to coordinate departmental activities to insure compliance with ordinances that regulate the adult business industry in the city. Vice squad members inspect businesses licensed in the city and respond to violations of these ordinances. The businesses include several often associated with prostitution, such as massage parlors, adult video stores, escort bureaus, and adult social clubs. Further information about these initiatives is available at http://phoenix.gov/POLICE/deb1.html.


In 1995, the city adopted Portland City Code Sec. 14B.30, which established a procedure under which the city council could designate prostitution-free zones. Persons who were arrested for prostitution and related crimes in the zones were barred for public rights of way and parks within these zones for 90 days. Persons were excluded from these rights of way and parks for one year if they had been convicted of a prostitution-related offense, if the offense was committed within that prostitution-free zone, and the person had been (1) given notice prior to the exclusion that the city would impose a one-year exclusion upon conviction and (2) notified of the right of appeal and the process for initiating an appeal. Violation of the exclusion was subject to a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both. The ordinance established an appeals process and a procedure for modifying the exclusion. In 2006, the ordinance was amended to reduce the period in which the zone designations would run from three years to one. It created a number of exceptions to exclusion, including travelling to see one's lawyer, going to work, obtaining social services, and travelling through the zone by city bus or expressway. Under the ordinance, these provisions expired on September 30, 2007.

In 2007, the city allowed the Prostitution Free Zone ordinance and a related ordinance regarding drug-free zones to sunset after determining they had not been effective in eliminating the drug addiction that drives these crimes. Instead, the city funded a social services program provided by Multinomah County to provide treatment services and alternatives to prostitution. The money goes to a nonprofit organization, Lifeworks Inc., that provides services aimed at steering prostitutes from the streets. The police department has also expanded its enforcement efforts. In the fall of 2008, the department had four officers in unmarked cars patrolling seven days a week in a neighborhood that had particularly high incidence of prostitution. However, a number of neighborhood organizations advocate reestablishing the prostitution-free zones in addition to these efforts. Portland's recent prostitution initiatives are described in the October 1, 2008 edition of The Bee (a local newspaper), available online at www.thebeenews.com/news/story.php?story_id=122263322283554000.

Portland also pioneered the use of vehicle forfeiture laws against prostitution clients. In Portland, most vehicles were returned to the owners under deferred prosecution arrangements, with low levels (about 1%) of clients reoffending. OLR Report 94-R-0409 describes the experience of several Connecticut cities with this approach.


Starting in the 1990s, courts in the city began incorporating provisions of the municipal code in court-ordered civil injunctions against known prostitutes. These code provisions, among other things, bar the prostitutes from:

1. approaching or signaling to a vehicle in a street or other right of way causing it to stop, unless a legitimate emergency so requires;

2. blocking the passage of a person or vehicle in a right of way;

3. being on the premises of an uninhabited or abandoned building; and

4. violating noise restrictions.

Violations of the restraining orders result in jail time and fines that exceed the usual penalties for prostitution.


The First Offender Prostitution Program is designed to reduce the demand for commercial sex and human trafficking in San Francisco by educating men arrested for soliciting prostitutes about the harm prostitution causes. The program, which was established in 1995, is a partnership of the San Francisco district attorney's office and police department and a local nonprofit organization, Standing Against Global Exploitation. Men arrested for prostitution are given the choice of paying a fee and attending a one-day class (commonly known as the “john school”), or being prosecuted. Fees support all of the costs of conducting the “john school” classes, as well as subsidizing police vice operations, screening and processing arrestees, and recovery programs for women and girls involved in commercial sex.

An evaluation conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed the program's effectiveness, return on investment, and transferability. Reviewers collected data through site visits, police “ride alongs,” interviews, collection of program documents and administrative data, structured observations of “john school” classes, pre- and post-class surveys of participants, and assembly of criminal history data regarding men arrested for soliciting prostitutes in San Francisco and throughout California. The evaluation found that the program:

1. has been implemented as intended;

2. has been effective in substantially reducing recidivism among men arrested for soliciting prostitutes;

3. is cost-effective, operating for over 12 years at no cost to taxpayers and generating nearly $1 million for recovery programs for providers of commercial sex; and

4. is transferable, having been successfully replicated in 12 other U.S. cities, including Chicago, New York City, and Tacoma, Washington.

The evaluation report, which describes the program in greater detail, is available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/222451.pdf.


The East of the River Community Court, established in 2002, hears all prostitution and other misdemeanor cases not involving domestic violence that occur in the sixth and seventh police districts of Washington. The court was a response to the challenges faced by many of the communities of Washington located east of the Anacostia River, including increasing rates of crime and disorder that were higher than in many other parts of the city. One judge presides over the court and hears all phases of a case from arraignment until final disposition. The court works with several agencies and entities including the United States Attorney's Office, Pre-Trial Services Agency, and D.C. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association. It identifies the social services needs of the defendants/offenders that may contribute to criminal behavior and develops diversion programs, where appropriate, to address those needs. As cases come before the judge in the courthouse, he or she seeks to administer justice that is a balance between punishment, community restitution, and providing services that the defendant may need. The judge also attends community meetings and other neighborhood events to keep abreast of neighborhood developments, crime problems, issues, and concerns.