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Whore Next Door: Prisoners' Dilemma 

Wednesday, May 18 2016
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Although California is known as a liberal haven, it is also a state with a serious incarceration problem. In 2009, federal courts mandated that the Golden State reduce its prison population, which was the highest in the nation at the time.

From a peak of 163,000, the number of people currently in state custody has fallen to just over 127,000, with nearly 5,000 incarcerated persons housed out-of-state in Arizona and Mississippi. This puts the state in compliance with the court's mandate to get the prison population down to only 137.5 percent of capacity. (California was at 143 percent as recently as 2014.)

Additionally, there's a growing movement in California to repeal mandatory minimum-prison sentencing, which has contributed to the state's overcrowded prison system.

Governor Jerry Brown is behind the latest round of prison reform that may be on the November ballot. There's strong opposition, including — get ready to die of not-surprise — from the Republican Party.

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to observe the initiatives committee meeting at the California GOP convention. Two initiatives on the docket — one that would increase parole chances for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, and another repealing the death penalty — were met with near-unanimous opposition.

Three middle-aged white male politicians presented their cases as to why these proposals were no good, and not a soul spoke to the contrary (aside from one douchebag in the audience who made a rape joke, chuckling that perhaps nonviolent crimes like the rape of an unconscious woman should result in less jail time because, "I mean, if she's passed out, it's fine, right?")

Ultimately, the initiatives committee and the party at large recommended voter opposition to both initiatives, toeing the line of ensuring people stay in prison and die there.

But one glimmer of hope in the world of criminal justice reform came earlier this month when the state Senate voted to decrease penalties for prostitution charges — moving slowly toward a world where state-sanctioned sentencing might be a thing of the past.

Under California law, sex workers can face 45 days in jail for a second prostitution charge, and 90 days for a third — as well as restrictions on their driver's licenses if they used a car while working. Provided the state Assembly approves SB 1129, California hos can have a little peace of mind knowing they won't be thrown in jail for doing their job.

Though the measure's author, Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning (D-Carmel), based the legislation on the notion that all sex workers are victims, it's a small but meaningful step in the right direction.

Last year, Amnesty International recommended a move toward worldwide decriminalization of prostitution as the most important step we can take to combat human trafficking — and decreasing penalties for sex workers is a building block toward making that a reality.

But casting all sex workers as either victim or villain negates the labor of sex work and the agency of the people who do it. Prostitution is a job that some people do; it doesn't matter that others might never understand how or why someone would do that type of work.

It's hard to imagine myself being a plumber, or an EMT, but does that make those jobs wrong? Does it mean that anyone who does that job is being forced to do it because no one on earth would choose such a life? Of course not. Some people can just deal with shit, death, and — in my case — cum better than others can.

I've never been forced or coerced to do my job, but some people certainly have been — though poverty and the racist, capitalist structure of our society are usually far more coercive than any "trafficker." But regardless of how people enter the sex industry — be it by choice, circumstance, or coercion — we all deserve access to justice without fear of facing jail time or shame-based "diversion programs."

California's Legislative Council analysis of SB 1129 states that, "While significant gains have been made in reducing the prison population, the state must stabilize these advances and demonstrate to the federal court that California has in place the 'durable solution' to prison overcrowding."

California may have reached the federal government's benchmark for prison reform, but living quarters that are over capacity by almost 40 percent are inhumane and unacceptable.

I'm pleased to see that California sex workers may no longer have to fear incarceration, but it's going to take much more to dismantle the prison industrial complex in the United States — which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

About The Author

Siouxsie Q

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