The Houston Chronicle’s editorial board gets gushy over a “human trafficking court” (probably in fact a human-trafficking court) created by juvenile-court judge Michael Schneider to deal with underage prostitutes: “Kudos,” writes the Chron, “to all the parties involved for offering a humane, practical alternative for these vulnerable youngsters.”
Houston State Sen. John Whitmire has a long and distinguished history in working for prison reform and alternatives to incarceration. He welcomed the news of the pilot program, telling the Chronicle, “This is a smart approach to addressing criminal justice, to get involved as early as possible. There’s no doubt in my mind it will work, and will be cost-effective, not only in dollars, but in human misery.”
In June of last year the Texas Supreme Court ruled in In the Matter of B.W. that a child cannot be prosecuted for prostitution. The Chronicle mentions this ruling in its editorial, but it—and Senator Whitmire—fail to connect the dots.
Judge Schneider’s creation of a human-trafficking court is an attempt to recover judicial power lost with B.W. Since a child cannot be prosecuted for prostitution, underage prostitutes are not a criminal-justice problem. They are no longer the business of Judge Schneider qua judge, but only as they are the business of us all. I don’t pretend to know what kids who become prostitutes need, except that it falls under the category of “social work” rather than “judging.”
There is no legal instrument that I know of to hail children into Judge Schneider’s new court; such a court has no authority that I can see to sanction children for not complying with its wishes, nor to enter a judgment. I expect that the court will operate under the cover of darkness, because there is no way that it will withstand the light of day (sealed files and closed courtrooms will be justified “for the sake of the children”; lawyers will be found who are willing to waive their clients’ rights and keep their mouths shut about it).
The Chronicle calls human-trafficking court a “humane, practical alternative;” what is it an alternative to? Not to criminal or juvenile prosecution—those are out of bounds. The money spent on human-trafficking court could instead be spent on social services, including the nonprofits that have for years been trying to rescue runaway children in Houston, or—if you must feed a bureaucracy—on the detection, investigation, and prosecution of those who are exploiting children. (You really want a human-trafficking court? Put it in the criminal courthouse, and keep kids out of it except as witnesses.) Judge Schneider could give his own money to Streetwise Houston, but that wouldn’t serve to expand his little bureaucratic fiefdom.
I’m filing this one under “when your only tool is a hammer…,” but I’ll keep an eye on it.