A special court was set up in Cook County this month, and it's just for prostitutes. The goal is to rehabilitate people charged with felony prostitution, a group that largely contains repeat offenders. Prostitution is usually a misdemeanor offense at first, but after several offenses, it becomes a felony.
The new court is a pilot program, but not the first of its kind. Many counties have drug courts that work the same way. The focus is more on rehab and educational programs, and following defendants' progress, rather than pushing them through the system just to see them back in the same place a year later. Unlike drug court, the new court won't be called prostitute court, at least not officially. It's called WINGS (Women in Need of Gender Specific Services).
It's up to each defendant whether to participate in the program. A defendant has the option of taking a traditional sentence instead, such as a year in jail, and some are choosing to do so. Why would they possibly choose jail over freedom? They know the system. They know their sentence can easily be only six months, or even less. And for some, that might be a safer bet. The probation includes checking in often, taking drug tests, appearing back in court regularly, etc. The reform program is two years.
Almost anyone charged with felony prostitution will be eligible for the program. You have to plead guilty, spend 90 days in jail (in a special treatment unit), and then continue with services. The program includes ongoing drug and alcohol treatment, therapy for abuse, housing, job training, and mentors.
Our take is that this is great, in theory. And we really hope it turns some lives around. But we have to include a word of caution. If you are charged with felony prostitution, or any felony for that matter, don't take any deal - like pleading guilty in exchange for probation - without considering all your options. A good defense attorney will look at any defenses you might have, analyze the legality of your arrest, negotiate for a lesser charge, etc. Pleading guilty to a felony is serious business. And even though the focus here is on hope and reform, it's still a courtroom with a real judge and real consequences.
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