In 2018, BPPP received a microgrant from the Criminal Justice Initiative / Circle for Justice Innovations for a project to “Put Sex Worker Rights and Harm Reduction into Diversion Program Policies.” We developed this project because we were concerned that sex worker organizers were being placed in a position of having to decide to support fairly broken and oppressive forms of diversion (and perhaps support some community members to avoid being incarcerated, while leaving the system of injustice intact) or rejecting diversion programs in order to focus on law reform (and perhaps denying the immediate needs of low income sex workers in the court system). Neither of these options seemed right to us and the burden to chose one of these paths was divisive. Indeed, in 2017 even the act of applying for the CJI grant micro-grant was viewed by some organizers as a questionable act.

Here is what we have been working on in the project. A set of guidelines for preserving the rights of sex workers and prioritizing harm reduction in regards to diversion.

The Project: We propose to address the need to evaluate/understand and advocate for the best practice harm reduction elements that must be implemented in diversion program in key jurisdictions in the North East (Newark, AC, Philadelphia) in order to assure the health and rights of sex workers. We also propose to explore what environmental changes are essential to ensuring that sex workers and people in the sex trade have other options to arrest and incarceration and to clearly articulate these issues so that future programs developed in the area address these needs. Diversion programs exist to some degree in these jurisdictions (Newark, AC, Philadelphia) but do not effectively include harm reduction for sex workers and are insufficient in numerous ways. Community members including people in the sex trade, sex workers and others affected by the policing of prostitution need resources, leadership development and social capital to successfully ensure that harm reduction is prioritized. The Best Practices Policy Project is a sex worker led organization that specializes in organizing convenings of community members to articulate policy concerns, engaging in community centered evaluations and in ensuring that policies of any kind are best practice in defending the health and rights of sex workers. In this proposed project, we will work with community partners in Newark, Atlantic City and Philadelphia to bridge the gaps between best practice harm reduction and efforts to divert sex workers from incarceration by “Putting Sex Worker Rights and Harm Reduction into Diversion Program Policies.”