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Arizona's Tenacious Laws Against Sex Workers

Labor

Project ROSE (Reaching Out on Sexual Exploitation) is a new collaboration between police, prosecutors and University of Arizona’s School of Social Work that is hailed as an effort at offering an alternative. However, after spending two days with Project ROSE, I found many of those affected by these laws felt that this high-profile reform made little difference.

Arizona's Tenacious Laws Against Sex Workers

By Jordan Flaherty, Arizona Prison Watch
Truthout
7 December 2013

Editor's note: Last month, journalist Jordan Flaherty produced a ten minute TV news report for Al Jazeera America on a controversial program in Phoenix Arizona called Project ROSE. After he saw his story re-edited and its focus changed, he wrote an article about Project ROSE for Al Jazeera English, featuring information left out of the news report. Al Jazeera English posted the article, and then took it down days later without explanation. Because Truthout believes this issue is important, below is the story removed by Al Jazeera. Arizona has some of the harshest penalties for prostitution in the US. Even the Phoenix Police Department and District Attorney’s office see a need for change.

Project ROSE (Reaching Out on Sexual Exploitation) is a new collaboration between police, prosecutors and University of Arizona’s School of Social Work that is hailed as an effort at offering an alternative.

However, after spending two days with Project ROSE, I found many of those affected by these laws felt that this high-profile reform made little difference.

Arizona is one of a handful of states that dictates mandatory minimums and felony upgrades for selling sex. Those convicted for the first time serve 15 days in jail with no possibility of probation or parole. The fourth conviction rises to the level of an automatic felony and a minimum of 180 days.

“I've worked on these issues for more than 20 years,” said Penelope Saunders, an advocate for reform of policies related to sex work and director of Best Practices Policy Project. “I've been a harm reductionist, I've been a service provider, I've been a researcher, and even I was not aware of the degree to which people are being incarcerated here in Arizona for prostitution related offenses.”

However, the city of Phoenix has had a diversion program on the books since 1997. On their first prostitution conviction, people are offered the choice to take classes through a programme offered by Catholic Charities instead of jail. If they complete the programme, they will not have a conviction on their record.

Project ROSE, which started in 2011, brings a new innovation: Those arrested are brought straight to a donated space in a church rather than taken to jail or seeing a judge. Once there, they meet with representatives from the police and prosecutors and if they agree to stay, they meet with social service agencies and are asked to take a several-month-long diversion programme offered by Catholic Charities.

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