I attended the first few minutes of last week’s city council meeting, long enough to see Rick Rushton hold the johns item under personal privilege. That means the item will be up again for the Council’s review tomorrow evening.
Last week, Councilor Haller somewhat clarified (or perhaps corrected) the thrust of the proposal. As Jeremy reported, ‘Haller clarifie[d] the car would be impounded after “arrest and conviction.”‘
And there’s the rub.
You see, no one actually gets convicted of the charge of paying for sexual conduct.
I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the Courthouse Records from the Telegram for the past decade or so; they are incomplete, but the best I can work with on relatively short notice. Any mention of statistics in Worcester that follow should be taken with that grain of salt.
Since the implementation of the CARD Program four years ago [click here first for access], roughly half the men charged with paying for sexual conduct have opted to attend that program in exchange for having the case continued without finding. The other half have their cases continued without finding, or are given a small ($600 or less) fine, or have the cases dismissed.
Let’s say that the state makes the proposed bill a law, and that men convicted of this crime would have their car taken away. At that point, most men who would otherwise opt for a fine (which I assume would mean a conviction, but I welcome a correction to that assumption) would then likely opt for the CARD Program, which would be $200 and a continuance.
So, we’d see even fewer convictions than we already do, and have a pretty ineffective (and never-used) law on the books.
‘But wait!’ you say. ‘When a man is arrested for a second time, that continuance without finding can quickly turn into a conviction.’
Excellent idea, dear reader.
Except that in my slightly-less-than-comprehensive review of records, I couldn’t find an example of a repeat offender.
While this could be due to the incomplete records, it is consistent with the experience of communities across the country. If you scroll down this long report about the efficacy of johns schools [similar to the CARD Program] in California to page 91, you’ll see that in multiple cities, the rate of men who were rearrested for solicitation within a year of a previous arrest was consistently less than 0.1% (and in most cases, far less than that).
It’s unclear why there is a low recidivism rate for johns. According to Monto and Garcia, “recidivism rates may be low because many of the men caught in sweeps are not regular users or because the arrest gives them insight into law enforcement strategies that reduces the likelihood that they will be rearrested, even if they continue to patronize prostitutes.” Also, “the arrest itself may serve as a deterrent.”
In fact, according to a survey of 127 johns in Buffalo that was conducted in 1999, nearly half (66) were concerned about being arrested. Only one man — less than 1% of the respondents — was concerned about having his vehicle seized. (And that’s in a city where impounding johns’ cars is allowed!)
What does that tell us?
Arrests are sufficient deterrents for many first-time (or infrequent) johns.
Men who solicit on a regular basis are not going to be fooled by a police decoy (either because they are more savvy or because they are already familiar with whom they want to be with). If we want to prevent those men from soliciting — who are, presumably, the ones we want to be preventing — stings will not do it, and neither will most penalties.
If we increase penalties, they will likely never be used (because of the CARD Program and continuation without finding). And if they are used, it will most likely be on a first-time offender. How is that fair?
Rather than spend time on a law that will never be effective, I’d like to see a detailed assessment like Buffalo’s. It would be great to have surveys of arrested johns that describe their motivations, drug use, and fears; it would be equally great to have hard data on recidivism with or without the CARD Program.
I know it’s silly to mention facts and statistics in the face of something that is so irrational it will naturally sail through the City Council…but it’s worth a try, isn’t it?