DELAWARE COALITION FOR HEALTH AND JUSTICE RECEIVED FUNDING FOR WOMEN IN SUPPORT OF HEALTH (WISH) PROGRAM
In September 2011, the U.S. Office of Women's Health ("OWH") selected the Delaware Coalition for Health and Justice ("DCHJ") to receive $1.5 million over 5 years in funding to address the unmet health needs of the sex worker population in Delaware. The funding comes as a result of DCHJ's success in phase 1 of OWH's program to develop a Strategic Plan to determine the structure and process of a long-term solution. This phase 2 funding will provide Delaware with resources to implement the Strategic Plan developed by DCHJ through the start up of the proposed comprehensive intervention program known as the Women in Support of Health (WISH). The WISH program will expand and enhance access to medical and behavioral health care and community supports for women who engage in sex work in New Castle County.
The History of DCHJ
DCHJ is a unique collaboration between the courts, law enforcement, public health and private organizations created to shift local government's approach to prostitution, aiding women and girls to permanently exit the criminal justice system. DCHJ aims to promote the health of at-risk women who are engaged in prostitution by applying a public health approach to prostitution and related criminal activity with a focus on the following goals:
- To frame prostitution/sex work in Delaware as a public health and social service issue requiring multi-level engagement;
- To improve the health and well-being of those engaged in, or at risk of becoming engaged in, prostitution or sex work;
- To design a plan for expanding services that responds to the identified needs of those engaged in, or at risk of becoming engaged in, sex work or prostitution;
- To improve and coordinate the system responses toward those engaged in, or at risk for becoming engaged in, sex work or prostitution.
DCHJ provides a dynamic departure from the typical practice of revolving door arrests of prostitutes with little or no services for women and girls which resulted in extremely high recidivism rates (80% of prostitutes arrested are repeat offenders), continuing sexual exploitation, trauma, violence, and enormous costs to the criminal justice and public health systems.
Public health and social service practitioners have worked alongside criminal justice stakeholders on DCHJ to identify evidence-based interventions that address the social and gender-based determinants of health. At the onset, DCHJ was focused on modifying the court system, exploring the concepts of "diversion" or "problem solving" courts. Most sex workers "go under the radar" of the criminal justice system (are not charged as prostitutes) and cycle through the system without addressing issues relating to prostitution. A paradigm shift occurred during DCHJ's early deliberations based on findings that these women needed healthcare and social services but were trapped in the criminal justice system with limited access to these services. This shift from a court to a community-based focus affirmed DCHJ's goal to promote health by applying a public health approach and a new model of collaboration to prostitution and related criminal activity.
The WISH Program
Delaware is 1 of 10 applicants selected to receive the $1.5 million phase 2 WISH program funding.
Beginning in early 2012, the Coalition will implement services for the target population using a cross-disciplinary approach with a public/private partnership. Services offered through WISH:
- Outreach to sex workers on the street, in prisons, in homeless shelters—Harm reduction goals include encouraging safer sex practices and substance abuse treatment
- Care Advocacy (case management)—Linkage to substance abuse treatment, housing programs, primary medical care, other ancillary services in a nonjudgmental environment that employs motivational interviewing and strengths-based case management
- Trauma Therapy—Trauma Recovery Empowerment Model administered to help women explore how the trauma they experienced as children and youth (and in their current work) affects their mental health; and strategies for coping and healing
- Advocacy Training—Sex workers will work with advocates to identify issues of interest to present to policymakers
Problem Solving Courts
Several Court of Common Pleas Judicial Officers and court staff have been instrumental in the success of the Coalition to date, including Judge Andrea Rocanelli, Commissioner Mary McDonough, Court Administrator Carole Kirshner, and Judicial Secretary Kristin Dangello. DCHJ is also exploring the concept of developing a dedicated court program that would provide trauma-informed criminal justice processing as well as serve as a conduit for sex workers to be linked to the WISH Program.