Community work the best penalty for vice, say police

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The Independent Online
Police chiefs are calling for changes in the law to allow convicted prostitutes to do community work instead of being fined or jailed. They also want tougher penalties for kerb-crawlers.

The recommendations, in a review of police policy on prostitutes, follow recent calls by several chief constables for the legalisation of brothels. The reassessment of the police's approach also suggests a change in attitude towards child prostitutes, whom the review believes should be treated more as victims than offenders.

Those views are likely to anger some conservative and right-wing groups who are becoming increasingly hostile to the apparent liberalisation of the police's attitude to prostitution.

The review was led by Assistant Chief Constable Tim Brain of West Midlands police, spokesman on prostitute issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers during the past year.

Mr Brain said of fining prostitutes caught soliciting: "All this does is encourage women to go back on the streets to earn the money for the fines."

"The working group recommends that there could be community-based penalties for taking part in prostitution," he said. "You could get a community service order as an alternative to a custodial sentence. To have a community service order on top of or instead of a fine is an unprecedented step. I think there is a lot to be said for it as it would help break the cycle of re-offending."

It is unclear what type of work the prostitutes would be expected to do but it could include working on charitable or community projects. Mr Brain added that it would need the support of the judiciary and probably a change in the law.

Another of the proposals by the working group, which have received the backing of Acpo's general purpose committee and will be considered by its ruling council this week, is to give officers the power to arrest kerb-crawlers.

At present men caught kerb-crawling can only be summoned to appear at a police station at a later date and police find it extremely difficult to force them off the street. Mr Brain said: "We want an unequivocal power to arrest kerb-crawlers. This would deter men but also place male clients on the same footing as the prostitutes. At the moment the law discriminates against prostitutes, which seems unfair. They should be treated equally."

The Home Office is known to be sympathetic to the police's desire to have powers of arrest for kerb-crawling.

On the question of child prostitutes, the police and other services should be looking at it as "a problem of care and welfare rather than offences and punishment", Mr Brain said. He believes that under-16s who become involved in vice should be considered more as victims. "It's getting young people out of a cycle of abuse and depravation. Most get into vice because they have run away from home, have been abused or develop a drug habit. We need to look at developing a range of strategies to help them change their lifestyle." The working group, which has been consulting social services and the Children's Society, is carrying out further research.

Mr Brain does not believe legalising brothels is the correct way forward and has not recommended it. But he said that it was important for the police to examine how they dealt with prostitution.