Audit faults S.F. D.A.’s prostitution program Sunday, September 20, 2009

John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer <>

The program operated by the San Francisco district attorney’s office
targeting customers of prostitutes has ill-defined goals and no way to
determine its effectiveness, according to a new audit by the city’s budget

Despite being touted as a national model that comes at no cost to taxpayers,
the audit said the program didn’t cover its expenses in each of the last
five years, leading to a $270,000 shortfall.

The program has first-time offenders arrested for soliciting a prostitute
pay as much as $1,000 for a one-day class taught by sex-trafficking experts,
former prostitutes and others in exchange for having the misdemeanor charge
dropped. The program was $49,000 in the red last year, the audit said.

District Attorney Kamala Harris’ office disputes that the program is
ineffective and says the 14-year-old First Offender Prostitution Program,
begun eight years before she was elected district attorney, paid for itself
during its first nine years and will do so again.

“There have been a few years in which the revenue generated has not exceeded
expenditures,” said Erica Derryck, a spokeswoman for Harris. “We’re actively
implementing cost controls to prevent this from being an ongoing pattern.”

Those steps include using on-duty police officers rather than paying
overtime for the eight undercover prostitution stings a month that the
program covers, authorities said.

The audit was requested last year by then-Supervisor Jake McGoldrick before
an ultimately unsuccessful ballot measure to decriminalize prostitution in
the city.

Budget Analyst Harvey Rose’s audit said the program is not “sufficiently
comprehensive” to be “effective in reducing recidivism or assisting women to
leave prostitution.”

Harris’ staff disputes that, noting that the program has been replicated in
37 other locations nationwide.

Prosecutors also point to a 2008 report commissioned by the National
Institute of Justice that found men who attended San Francisco’s so-called
“john school” were about 30 percent less likely to reoffend.

But even researchers in that two-year study said the reports’ findings were

“While the program has a sensible curriculum and was generally well executed
… (its) low-intensity and brief intervention, which lacks aftercare, led
us not to expect a statistically significant impact,” the report said.

The budget analyst says the program has no clearly defined goal. Various
documents say the program reduces the demand for prostitution through
education, reduces recidivism and assists women in leaving prostitution,
according to the audit.

But the district attorney’s office doesn’t have the resources to measure
recidivism, including if the person reoffends in another county, and the
nonprofit group that provides social services to prostitutes does not track
the number of women who left the profession, the audit says.

Paul Henderson, chief of administration for the district attorney, said even
if auditors were unsure, the program’s goal was clear: cut reoffending among
solicitors of street prostitution in the city.

“The two-year NIJ study shows that the program has been effective,” he said.

E-mail John Coté at

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