By Kathy Chouteau
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton has announced her support for Governor Gavin Newsom’s July 1 signing of California Senate Bill 357, which decriminalizes loitering in a public place for the purposes of prostitution; it was formerly a misdemeanor.
Authored by Senator Scott Wiener, SB 357—also known as the Safer Streets for All Act—repeals California Penal Code Section 653.22, a law that criminalizes loitering for the intent to engage in sex work, according to one of the bill’s co-authors, the ACLU.
SB 357 also permits those who have been convicted of loitering to petition the trial court for resentencing or dismissal, as well as the sealing of records, per info from the governor. The Safer Streets for All Act will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
In a July 1 Facebook post, DA Becton applauded Gov. Newsom’s signing of SB 357, calling the legislation “an important step in reducing racial profiling and improving equity in our criminal justice system.” She said the law will also “facilitate our work in identifying individuals who may be victims of human trafficking by removing the fear of arrest” and that she looks forward to collaborating with community advocates and law enforcement “to increase outreach and provide services to potential victims of human trafficking.”
Gov. Newsom, who emphasized SB 357 doesn’t legalize prostitution, said that Senator Wiener authored this legislation “because the crime of loitering has disproportionately impacted black and brown women and members of the LGBTQ community.” He noted that black adults accounted for 56.1 percent of the loitering charges in Los Angeles during 2017-2019, even though they constitute only 10 percent of the city’s population.
Underscoring his agreement with the bill’s author but saying caution must be exercised in its implementation, the governor said his administration “will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts.”
Bill co-author ACLU also weighed in, stating that “the Safer Streets for All Act will take away this outdated and subjective Penal Code section 653.22, which has for too long allowed law enforcement to criminalize and harass someone based on the color of their skin, their gender or how they choose to make a living.”
Critics of SB 357 say that the act essentially legalizes prostitution and prevents law enforcement from busting human traffickers.
In an opinion piece published by the Times of San Diego earlier this year, Laine Lansing, a member of Saved In America’s Advisory Board, said that SB 357 “will effectively legalize street prostitution.”
“Loitering in a public place for the purpose of street prostitution has long been a misdemeanor. SB 357 makes this legal, and law enforcement would not be able to intervene, further limiting their ability to track down violent predators and protect trafficking victims.”
She added, “With increased trafficking due to the ongoing pandemic…this bill will only encourage pimps, organized crime and drug cartels, bringing more sex workers to California.”
Read Gov. Newsom’s letter to members of the California State Senate re: the Safer Streets for All Act here.