Creating Community for Incarcerated Sex Workers

A chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)

Why is the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars?

Since the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) “Behind Bars” inception in May 2016, SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) has sent out over 15000 newsletters to prisoners in 14 states. We have coordinated over 1000 pen pals. We have coordinated more than 7000 books through Amazon Wish Lists, 3000 book donations, and approximately 300 GED self-study guides to prisoners and prison libraries. We have funded 3 college level scholarships and presented at human rights conferences and rallies.  We have provided reentry support for 20 recently released prisoners and are working to write a reentry guide to help incarcerated people transition back to their community and not re-offend. We have fiscally sponsored 4 other like-minded organizations. We have a diverse Board of Directors that includes people who have been and still are incarcerated. We support men, women and trans folks. We are currently working to have to newsletter translated into Spanish.

Why is SWOP Behind Bars? There are more than 200,000 women currently behind bars in the U.S., and that number is on the rise. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the country. The rate of incarceration for women has been growing nearly twice as fast as that of men since 1985, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and account for about 7% of the total prison population in the U.S.  The fastest growing population behind bars is black women. Prostitution is one of the few crimes where women are arrested more frequently than men, but prostitution alone does not explain the growing numbers of Black, Latino, and trans-women behind bars. If we are going to make reforms to crimes based on morality, we need to consider laws that disproportionately affect women, such as the prohibition of sex work. Sex workers are often subject to the same “revolving door” punitive approach that people convicted of drug offenses receive; women do time, but never receive the resources, social, economic and, psychological support that would enable them to leave the industry if they choose. We don’t often consider that sex work can be an intentional choice. Whether or not it is a symptom of poor economic conditions or volition it is always considered inherently immoral.

In order to address this we need to widen the discussion to include issues that Black, Latino, and trans women are disproportionately affected by.  The illegal purchasing of sex is ultimately what sustains the market and forces sex work underground. The stigma has to be removed around the discussion of sex work in order to protect the human rights and, as recently suggested by Amnesty International (AI), the dignity of the women in it who often need access to housing and, health care. By decriminalizing both the buying and selling of sex we can focus our efforts on those who truly need assistance and making other avenues of employment available, especially for trans women. Laws prohibiting sex work are based on a moral code that doesn’t fully consider the implications. If we are going to reform non-violent crimes like drug use and selling that are founded on societal beliefs, we also need to consider other non-violent crimes, regardless of stigma and moral objections. The question of decriminalization or legalization cannot be limited to marijuana, but needs to be expanded to encompass sex work. We need to rethink the way we currently differentiate and treat between violent and non-violent persons convicted of offenses and push for decriminalization of sex work and the correlation to decreasing crimes against women; these progressive reforms normalize and regulate sex work rather than further stigmatizing and conflating an underground industry with human trafficking. With these efforts we can reduce sexual violence in the US, ameliorate conditions for a marginalized portion of the population, and destigmatize what is a reality for many women.

International Human Trafficking Conference Toledo

SWOP Behind Bars will be attending, presenting and tabling at the International Human Trafficking Conference in Toledo ‪on September 20‬ and 21st!  We will be hosting a Sex Worker Meet and Greet ‪on Thursday Evening‬ (the 20th) so if you are in Toledo Ohio and want to come hang out with us – Drinks and Snacks are free from 7-9. Email us at ‪‬ for location.  Sex Workers and Allies Only.

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Pennsylvania to end prison book donations, forcing inmates onto pricey eBook platform

“Effective immediately, the DOC will begin to transition to ebooks coupled with bolstered DOC library system featuring centralized purchasing and ordering process,” the DOC announced at its website. “No books or publications will be shipped directly to an inmate. … [we] will no longer accept books donated directly to individual inmates.”

Pennsylvania to end prison book donations, forcing inmates onto pricey eBook platform / Boing Boing

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Please call in TODAY, Friday Sept 14th, to Pennsylvania Governor Wolf, state senator and representatives, Lt. Governor Candidate (and Gov. Wolf’s Running Mate) John Fetterman and PA Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Wetzel to protest outrageous new punitive DOC policies that will impinge on prisoner’s rights and those of their families. This comes as state prisoners across PA have been held in a 10-day lockdown, unable to communicate with loved ones and supporters. See action alert and suggested talking points below from Amistad Law Project.

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PA Prisons In Lock Down

NPR KATIE MEYER, BYLINE: Last week, Pennsylvania’s corrections department locked down all 25 of its state prisons. Prisoners were more or less confined to their cells 24 hours a day. And though individual prisons have started relaxing procedures somewhat, the lockdown is still in place. Now Governor Tom Wolf says they’re taking another extreme action.

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Pennsylvania prisons on lockdown as mystery illnesses probed

PITTSBURGH — A type of synthetic marijuana could be causing the widespread staff sicknesses that have prompted a lockdown at all state correctional institutions, the head of Pennsylvania’s prison system said Thursday. Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel made the comment in Pittsburgh while speaking at a news conference about an unrelated pilot program to help inmates with re-entry to their communities. Wetzel announced the following steps, effective immediately and indefinitely:
• All DOC state prisons are locked down.
• All DOC mailrooms are closed to non-legal mail until further notice.

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Send A Newsletter Inside!

SWOP Behind Bars mailed its first newsletter to incarcerated women from 7 states in the United States. The names were submitted anonymously and we appreciate the support from the sex worker community as well as all the writers and journalists and academics that live among us and who have pledged support and offered further assistance!