The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has made a sweeping move that aims to keep sex workers out of the court room.
On Friday, Kings County DA Eric Gonzalez announced his office has recently vacated 262 bench warrants related to prostitution and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. He also said his team intends to dismiss 850 more warrants, some of which date back to the 1970s, at the earliest time possible; Any arrests made on those warrants will not be prosecuted.
The DA is also calling on state legislators to repeal the loitering for purposes of prostitution law and expunge the old 25,575 convictions on the two offenses in Brooklyn. He explained that the move will help sex workers "move on from their past to a more stable and less dangerous way of life," as a warrant could show up on a background check and prevent opportunities.
"Vacating these warrants and dismissing these cases is consistent with my view that those who engage in these activities need to be offered assistance, not criminally prosecuted," Gonzalez said in a statement. "I am also calling on Albany to repeal the law that prohibits what is known as loitering for purposes of prostitution, because of the vagueness of the law, the stark racial inequalities in its enforcement, and the disproportionate harm that enforcement of the law has caused to vulnerable trans women in our community. Additionally, I am asking the legislature to expunge past prostitution convictions so they will not hold people back from opportunities for a better future."
Although sex workers may still be arrested, Gonzalez told BuzzFeed News the hope is to reduce their involvement with the criminal justice system. Sex worker advocates say the approach is a step in the right direction, but the ultimate goal should be decriminalization.
"This decision will help many people avoid being entangled in the court system," said Jillian Modzeleski, a senior trial attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. "However many harms still remain, including undercover policing by NYPD’s Vice Squad that is mired in racist and sexist abuse and corruption ... All people who carry the burdens of sex work-related records should have their convictions vacated; and the Vice Squad should be abolished."