Monday, March 2, 2009

LA: 'John School' Opens

Former prostitute Cathy Washington talks to men at John School,
a remediation program run by the L.A. City Attorney's office.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - Early on an otherwise slow Saturday morning, 16 men drifted into the lobby of a police station in South Los Angeles.

They had no crimes to report or friends to bail out of jail. A motley crew bound only by their search for sex, the strangers plastered themselves sheepishly against the back wall, their eyes cast down at the floor like so many awkward teenagers at a school dance. A cop working the front desk took in the glum faces and smirked slightly.

A few minutes after 8:30, the men were led down a hallway and into a room. Spanish speakers were told to take seats next to two translators. "We've developed this program to help you," Bill Margolis, a retired LAPD detective, told the group. "If you listen to what these people say to you today -- if you just stay awake and pay attention -- I guarantee you'll be a better person at the end of it."

"And you don't get a second chance," added Art Ruditsky, the bad cop to Margolis' good one. "Get arrested again and we'll see you in court."

This is john school, a new effort by law enforcement officials to stem prostitution in Los Angeles. Built on the belief that a heavy dose of in-your-face shame and scare tactics can do more to dissuade men from looking to the streets for gratification than traditional punishment, the class -- think traffic school with higher stakes -- offers first-time offenders leniency in exchange for a promise that they will change their ways. It is the latest example of how prosecutors and police around the country are rethinking their strategies in the age-old battle against prostitution.

"I've arrested hundreds of street walkers and busted countless tricks," said Margolis, who spent nearly three decades working in the Los Angeles Police Department's vice squad. "All those years, we'd send them to court, they'd pay a fine, spend maybe a day or two in jail and then be on their way...


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