Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
A program to help hookers quit walking the street came under attack at Dallas County Commissioners Court Tuesday.
A Dallas County commissioner who often fights for social programs is criticizing a Dallas program that aims to get prostitutes off the street and keep them out of jail.
Dallas police started the program in 2007 to arrest prostitutes and offer them counseling and drug treatment programs to help them stay out of jail and leave the sex trade.
Outgoing Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey has been providing the single county staff member who helps oversee the program.
"Women were just coming into the jail, and they were just a revolving door, and there was no treatment for them," she said.
Dickey leaves office in January, so commissioners on Tuesday considered a plan to put the prostitution diversion staff member under the control of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose office handles prosecution of prostitutes.
But Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said the program has not earned its keep.
Price complained that 60 percent of the 850 women served by the program returned to jail.
He said the $76,000 salary for the staff member is far greater than the estimated $15,000 of annual savings in jail expenses from reducing the number of incarcerated prostitutes.
"The purpose of diversion is to show we are diverting cost," he said. "I don't care what program."
Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia, who was the Dallas City Council Public Safety Committee chairperson when the program began, said she still supports the program, even if it has only a 40 percent success rate.
"It's a program that makes a difference in the quality of life of the citizens of Dallas and women that otherwise will not have an opportunity to leave a life of prostitution," she said.
Police from other cities in the United States and Canada attended a 2009 Dallas conference to learn about the program.
City officials said residents in areas that had been frequented by hookers and their customers have been pleased with improvements.
Four of the five Dallas County commissioners voted to keep funding the position.
Price abstained from the vote.