If one group of lawmakers has its way, prostitution in Illinois won't be a felony anymore. The bill to change that is making its way through the state's senate. Illinois is one of only seven other states to charge prostitution as a felony and that upgrade has only been going on since 2000.
"The felony prostitution charge is a failed 13 year experiment. It's an ineffective policy that's very costly," says Lynne Johnson, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
Supporters of the legislation to keep prostitution a misdemeanor say Illinois jails are already overcrowded and we need to be smarter with our money. Many believe locking people up does not change the behavior. The Illinois Department of Corrections estimates it cost about $2 million last year to house people convicted of prostitution
"I think focusing on the causes of prostitution whether it be mental health, drugs, alcohol as well as the human trafficking angle as well as focusing on johns," says Joe Bruscato, Winnebago County State's Attorney.
In Illinois the penalty for the people who buy sex those so-called johns is often a misdemeanor less than what a prostitute faces. According to Bruscato there needs to be more of an effort to target customers so prostitutes don't have a reason to set up in the community.
"This does not decriminalize prostitution and also individuals should understand that the real life experience is very few people get convicted of felony prostitution and even few people actually get sent to prison really the focus here needs to be on the rehabilitation," says Bruscato.
The Winnebago County courts currently have a program that keeps first time offenders out of jail and assigns them to drug and alcohol rehab. Opponents say without the harsh penalties some people will not be sparked to change their behavior.
The bill has no been brought up for a vote in the Senate yet. It is scheduled for a third reading April 10th.
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