A two-hour documentary set to air Thursday, August 18th on the Oprah Winfrey Network details the unique approach the Cook County Sheriff’s Office uses when handling prostitution cases and the efforts made to help those women turn their lives around.
“Prostitution: Leaving The Life” is set to air at 8 p.m. CST on OWN. It details the work done by employees in the Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Programs – including three former prostitutes who work with the Sheriff’s Police Vice Unit to conduct on-site outreach and intervention with women at the point they are arrested in a prostitution sting. They offer immediate access to treatment services, as well as linkage to medical care and safe housing, in order to help them begin a path to recovery. Those willing to accept treatment services are immediately provided an opportunity to begin to leave the life they’ve been leading. SWJP staff also attend court hearings and attempt to link the women with services available at the Cook County Jail – working with judges to order the women to the rehabilitative programs offered by SWJP, instead of going into the jail’s general population.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart started the unique program in 2008 after finding his officers repeatedly arresting the same women. Recognizing the underlying effects of trauma and drug addiction that drove many to prostitution, Lisa Cunningham, Marian Hatcher and Brenda Myers-Powell have been hired as peer coordinators. In those positions, they assist other women in need, by referencing their own histories with trauma, addiction and prostitution.
Since then, SWJP staff have conducted nearly 100 interventions with women on the street, just moments after their arrest. Of those, 40 have accepted help. Cook County judges have sentenced another 25 women to the SWJP program by court order. SWJP staff have also reunited four underage girls with their families and have also worked with internationally trafficked women in ensuring they made it home safe to their native country to be reunited with their families.
The documentary follows the work of Lisa, Marian and Brenda as they continue to assist women from the city and suburbs who have made the decision to turn their lives around.