In the past year more than 170 people have been arrested in the Austin metro area for allegedly soliciting sex. That according to Mack Martinez with the county attorney's office who warned the old way of cracking down on the oldest profession isn't working.
"We have chased it from one neighborhood to another neighborhood to another neighborhood but it continues to exist and it continues to grow,” said Martinez.
Martinez and managers from Travis County’s Counseling and Education Services department requested permission to create a new anti- prostitution program. Under the plan those caught soliciting sex, known as Johns, would be offered an intervention course instead getting locked up for 30 days.
"This is done by educating the john to all the different issues of harm that can happen,” said Service director Caryl Colburn.
The Prostitution Solicitation Deterrent class, according to Colburn, will be tougher than high school Sex Ed - and a little less intense than a scared straight jail-house encounter.
"They don’t know the facts, they don’t know that this really is harmful and so we are giving them the facts and they will have some time to process and dwell on themselves, and reflect no themselves,” said Colburn.
The class will take eight hours to complete and will be funded by a $250 a fee paid by each offender. It will be managed by the county's new Phoenix Court which was created with state grant money to help prostitutes start a new life.
The Phoenix Court started last year in response to a state mandate for communities to crack down on human trafficking rings. Travis County administrators claim 14 individuals have gone through the special court and have not returned to their old life.
The new re-education class for those who solicit sex is modeled after similar programs in San Francisco and St. Paul. But with no definitive studies available proving success, the benefit of starting up one in Austin was questioned.
"Oops, we may be creating a much better educated and informed customers but not necessarily reducing their appetite for this kind of behavior,” Said Judge Sarah Eckardt.
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty suggested the commission spend more time looking into the proposal before voting on it Tuesday.
"It’s going to be difficult to convince me that you are really going to be able to do enough about this,” said Daugherty.
Despite the doubts commissioners voted to give the program a try.
"I think it might be worth taking the chance to see what we can achieve, and if we can’t I think we will know that too,” said Commissioner Margaret Gomez.
That proposal passed on a 4 - 1 vote. Commissioner Daugherty was the lone no vote.