Queens, New York, District Attorney Melinda Katz moved on Tuesday to dismiss nearly 700 cases against people charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution.
The move came the same day New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed to decriminalize sex work.
The loitering for the purpose of prostitution law was repealed last month out of concern it too often targeted women, trans people and people of color based solely on their appearance.
"Historical data shows that enforcement of this statute had primarily been used to arrest people based on their gender or appearance," Katz said. "Dismissing cases related to this unfair and now repealed statute frees members of our community from the collateral consequences of their arrests."
The request came as prosecutors across the country are rethinking their views of prostitution. It is no longer viewed entirely as a crime, but often as a consequence of sex trafficking.
"Instead of prosecuting these defendants, we need to provide a helping hand by connecting them with meaningful services, support options and the necessary tools that will assist them to safely exit the sex trade if that is what they choose to do," Katz said.
She asked the Queens Supreme Court to dismiss:
- 146 cases of defendants with outstanding warrants on open cases charging 240.37 (loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense) and related charges
- 84 cases of defendants with outstanding warrants on cases charging 240.37 and related charges who failed to appear after pleading guilty
- 443 cases of defendants with outstanding warrants on pending cases charging 230.00 (prostitution) and related charges
On Tuesday, de Blasio urged state lawmakers to decriminalize sex work and he unveiled police reforms that would review procedures the New York City Police Department uses to identify and investigate human trafficking.
"It's time to decriminalize sex workers and focus our enforcement on those who exploit and profit off a broken system," the mayor said in a statement. "We are calling on the State to end criminal penalties for sex workers and help us reach those in need without requiring involvement with the criminal justice system."
The city plans to focus on pre-arrest models, such as offering "community-centered services to sex workers without conducting arrest as a condition of receipt," as opposed to offering services after arrests, as is the current model.
"We applaud the Mayor -- and especially the Black, brown and trans activists who have been working tirelessly for years to decriminalize sex work -- for announcing this proposal," Zil Goldstein, associate director of medicine for transgender and nonbinary health at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, said in a statement. "The best way to support the health and wellness of sex workers is by protecting them from harassment and unjust incarceration."