Richmond, Va., Officials Consider Prostitution-Free Zones

Richmond officials hope banning prostitutes and their customers from three areas around the city will cut down on illegal prostitution.

The proposal for Target Enforcement Zones would make it a crime for a previously arrested prostitute or "john" even to be seen in the areas. A judge, at the request of prosecutors, would have the discretion to bar that person from entering the zones unless he or she lives, worships or works in the neighborhood.

"Getting a conviction on prostitution is somewhat difficult — even making an arrest," said 3rd District Councilman Chris A. Hilbert, whose district encompasses one of the zones. "You can't make that initial arrest any easier, but banishment for someone's mere presence in these zones could help to curb the problem and prevent people from coming back and harming these neighborhoods."

The zones — two along the Chamberlayne Avenue corridor and one in South Richmond along Jefferson Davis Highway — were created based on prostitution arrests and reports of vice-related crimes, Richmond Police Maj. David McCoy said. Nearly 40 of the 76 prostitution arrests made in the city over the past year were in those areas, McCoy said.

Richmond police recently established the zones using a 1993 city ordinance that allows the police chief to set up special enforcement areas for up to one year, but they want to make it permanent.

The City Council's public safety committee approved the prostitution-free boundaries last week, and the Council was expected to vote on the measure Monday night.

If approved, enforcement would take effect Oct. 1.

Those caught in an enforcement zone after being banned by a judge could face a fine and up to a year in jail, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland said.

Prosecutors also have been seeking — and getting — tougher sentences of between eight and 12 months for people arrested for prostitution.

"We are pursuing the prosecution problem with both the target enforcement zones and aggressive enforcement and stiff sentences," Thorne-Begland said. "But we hope the community will join in our efforts to develop some alternative programs to break the cycle of drug addiction that is leading the prostitution problem."