Texas is the only state in the union where prostitution is a felony, according to the San Francisco-based organization Prostitution Research & Education. As a result, 350 inmates are currently incarcerated in Texas for prostitution, costing the state between $5 million and $7 million per year. Meanwhile, programs that would treat many of the underlying causes of prostitution, such as drug addiction, cost a fraction as much. As a result, one key state senator now believes that Texas’ unusually strict law does not make sense:
It costs $18,538 to house a convict in state prison for a year and about $15,500 in a lower-security state jail, according to Legislative Budget Board calculations. By contrast, a community-based program costs about $4,300 a year.
“She’s a perfect example of why these women should not be taking up expensive prison beds,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who said that the 2001 felony prostitution law had broad support at the time and acknowledged that he voted for it.
“It’s nuts that we’ve got this many prostitutes in prison, people that we’re not afraid of, but we’re just mad at,” he said. “By locking them up, we’re not fixing the problem — we’re just spending a lot of money incarcerating them, warehousing them, when we could be spending a lot less getting them treatment so they can get out and stay out of this business.”
It’s worth noting that Whitmire is hardly known for an unTexas-like empathy for people convicted of crimes. Last year, Texas’ Criminal Justice Division eliminated the traditional practice of allowing death row inmates to chose their last meal after Whitmire wrote a letter to the division asking them to abolish this nod to these inmate’s humanity.
It’s also worth noting that Texas law also makes it a felony to hire a prostitute, although no one is currently incarcerated for this reason. Apparently, Texas is more concerned with locking up the women who are often forced into sex work than the men who take advantage of their services.