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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: March 4, 2021 12:58 PM
From: Representative Joanna E. McClinton and Rep. Tarah Toohil
To: All House members
Subject: Eliminating recidivism penalties for non-violent crimes of prostitution
With the passage of Act 105 in September 2014, Pennsylvania finally began to recognize people criminally charged with the non-violent crime of prostitution as who they truly are - victims of sex trafficking. However, the crime of prostitution under Pennsylvania law still carries draconian recidivist provisions. For example, a third prostitution offense becomes a misdemeanor of the second degree, and a fourth prostitution offense becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree – punishable with up five years of incarceration.

In the near future, we will be introducing legislation to remove the current recidivist penalties for prostitution. It is important to note, however, that prostitution will remain a criminal offense with the current penalty of a misdemeanor of the third degree under our proposal. In addition, our legislation strengthens language already in state law to go after the real criminals – those who promote prostitution and those who buy sex. These are the true criminals in this process, and they should be punished as such.
At one time, many believed that a woman freely chose to enter into “the life” of prostitution, and consequently, might be deterred from re-entering “the life” at the prospect of harsher punishment. However, recent studies have shown that this view is largely archaic and unfounded. The reality is that most women do not sell sex by choice, but rather as a means of survival. Many of these women are engaged in prostitution because they ran away from abusive homes as children, lived on the streets, and remain uneducated, jobless, and homeless. These women deserve access to programs and services, not archaic punishments.

Please take a moment and consider the financial cost of incarcerating these victims for repeat offenses. According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), at least 914 individuals, mainly women, were imprisoned state-wide for repeat prostitution charges from 2010 through 2015. The astronomical financial cost to imprison women with prostitution convictions presents a compelling reason to abolish recidivist provisions for prostitution. For example, in 2014, the City of Philadelphia imprisoned 127 people for repeat prostitution charges and spent $115 daily per inmate. Based on this statistic, the city spent $14,605 daily or $5,330,825 a year incarcerating mostly non-violent women who most often engage in the sex trade out of desperation or abuse. If even a portion of these resources were spent on programs to assist these women in exiting prostitution, the financial gains would be tremendous.

The solution to this inequality and the economic waste of resources is to eliminate the recidivism provisions for prostitution. Our legislation will ensure that individuals will only be charged with a misdemeanor of the third degree, regardless of any prior prostitution convictions. Pennsylvania is behind 37 other states with lesser penalties for prostitution convictions and is one of three states with the harshest maximum penalties.
It is obvious our system is failing these women in getting them the help they need and deserve. It is time for our Commonwealth to catch up with the many states that have already recognized prostitution for what it truly is - sexual exploitation. The first step towards this recognition is abolishing unfair and short-sighted recidivist provisions. Please join us in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation.

Introduced as HB1835