ESPU-Philly’s M Dante : It is “Re/Entry Awareness Month”! Did you know prostitution convictions cannot be expunged in Pennsylvania? At a time when most all other non-violent crimes are being erased from public record, prostitutes are forced into LEAD, Rescue Diversion, or they must accept a permanent sex crime conviction on their record.
Letter from SWOP Behind Bars to PHILLY CAM re: Re/Entry: According to documentation provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DoC), 74 individuals were incarcerated for prostitution-related charges between 2012-2015. The number of arrests between 2015-2017 is impossible to determine due to the fact that law enforcement does not have to share those numbers via right to know requests, and also since the Autumn 2014 inception of Pennsylvania Act 105, which conflates prostitution with trafficking and violent criminal sex acts. Statewide prostitution stings and rescue focused human trafficking raids have added increased difficulty in accessing potential statistics, along with changes in prosecutions due to new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pleas.
Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars strives to secure accurate data to connect with incarcerated sex workers to be sure they are fairly represented, properly identified, and have access to the resources they – and their families – need and deserve.
SWOP Behind Bars recognizes that there is a newly emerging and essential need for reentry and support services for men, women and transgender individuals leaving prison in Pennsylvania, especially if HIV positive; however we denounce the current model where all sex workers are forced to comply with anti-trafficking narratives. These programs are not written with our unique lived experiences in mind, and they do not reflect the daily realities we face. Stigma, marginalization, discrimination and state-sponsored violence are often the most oppressive things we face. Forcing our community to endure imposed narratives and language defining our activities, along with the additional hardship of shame-based rhetoric from our legislative representatives, cause irreparable harm.
Any consensual adult sex worker who is experiencing oppression as a result of the criminal justice system should be encouraged to participate in the services and support that meets their individual and community needs and not be subjected to a one-size-fits-all mandate of diversion courts and anti trafficking agendas.
SWOP Behind Bars seeks to provide compassionate, integral reentry services using a harm reduction model where the safety and health of the individual is prioritized through the facilitation of educational and informational material, custom created Amazon wishlists, and mentor-style pen pals. We introduce our self-facilitated program during incarceration in order to bridge the gap between incarceration and successful reentry into society. As an alternative to state-mandated programs that often force a participant to embrace the program values, we have found that empowering individuals with sex work positive community resources that meet their needs encourages an individual to thrive more quickly and has a longer lasting effect because it allows them to participate in their own recovery.
After all: who knows better the needs of the individual that the individual themselves? The Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars (SBB) mission is to create community links between the incarcerated sex workers and the vibrant sex worker rights community that encourages diversity, education, communication and opportunities to thrive!
We believe that access to this community and these opportunities will give folks behind bars the resources to develop their strengths and achieve new goals.
It is our hope that Pennsylvania will allow us to be included in the new narrative as sex work specific peer-based support, because exit programs developed by the state without the meaningful inclusion of sex worker voices will continue to fail.
Alex Andrews Co-Founder,SWOP Behind Bars No. American Representative, NSWP
Global Network of Sex Work Projects | Promoting Health and Human Rights
PHILLY CAM Producer R.E. Gibson-Phifer wrote: We are discussing the needs for a successful re-entry, whether inmates are properly prepared for release, how to rise above the discouragement and efforts to put new/better practices into play.
We want to hear from former inmates on their transition back into society, if the text book methods worked for them and how long the stigma of their crime followed them. And for those still struggling to get on their feet, we are asking them to join us for insight and assistance on the trouble they are having transitioning.
We will also discuss:
- Felons’ rights — when and how to reach out for legal assistance regarding discrimination and harrassment (job, housing, family, parole).
- Getting records expunge.
- How to be active in reform on inmate rehabilitation.
All are welcomed and admission is free.
I look forward to meeting you.
Sincerely, R.E. Gibson-Phifer Executive Producer LIKeIT IS 215-888-9089