SAN ANTONIO - The Esperanza Court program, a state-mandated program that helps prostitutes get off the streets, is marking its one-year anniversary this May.
Men and women are eligible to apply to become participants after four convictions for prostitution resulting in felony charges.
"They don't have parents, they don't have education, they don't have training, and they really don't have any support at all and so they go into the streets," said Judge Mary Roman, who helps oversee the program. "That's why we consider them victims, rather than criminals."
The program offers trauma, substance abuse and mental health treatment; job training; and transitional housing, among other things, to participants otherwise looking at jail time.
"One of the things we've learned through the years is. Just locking up people really is not going to change their behavior," said Emile Huggins, a Bexar County probation officer who works one on one with participants.
"When you see the damage that's done to these women in their lives, well then, it really doesn't have to be a number," Huggins said.
The program is just 1 year old and has yet to see a participant fully off the streets. Roman notes, however, that's not exactly how success is measured.
"For example, if they have stable employment, if they have a stable home. That's success for them," Roman said. "We want to give these individuals hope for a better life; We will open doors for them, but they have to walk through those doors."
To date, about 80 people have interviewed to be in the program. There are only 27 currently enrolled.
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