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Human trafficking court helps keep victims out of jail

ER doctors are learning how to identity patients who may be victims of trafficking
Ira Gelb
Creative Commons

The Washtenaw County Human Trafficking Court helps victims who are facing prostitution or related charges avoid jail time.

Instead, the year-old program steers victims toward legal, medical and rehab assistance as part of a two-year diversion program.

A new report from the Curtis Center Program Evaluation Group at the University of Michigan said the program is also saving the county money.

"The cost of putting a person in the Washtenaw County Jail is actually more expensive than the attenuated services that come with the program,” said Elizabeth Campbell, an assistant clinical law professor at the University of Michigan.

Campbell said before the court was developed, law enforcement officials often felt their hands were tied when it came to charging possible trafficking victims.

“They’d interact with a person who should, theoretically, be arrested and prosecuted for a commercial sex act or a related crime,” she said. “They’d recognize the person’s vulnerability and [their] need for intervention and services, but there was no system that allowed for that.”

Campbell said the court aims to help create a “paradigm shift” in the way law enforcement officers and court officials view prostitution.

“One of the primary goals of the court is to increase awareness so that exploited individuals will be identified and treated as victims as opposed to criminals,” Campbell said.

Court officials say they hope to expand their services to include job training and GED preparation services, as well as access to affordable housing for victims.

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