CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County officials have launched a new alternative program for men and women charged with prostitution, or who might be victims of human trafficking.

With the stroke of a pen, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans set June 1 as the start of the new Prostitution and Trafficking Intervention Court.

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Evans said state law already treats prostitution as a misdemeanor, and not a felony. The new intervention court takes that approach a step further.

“This approach is to treat people who have in the past been treated like criminals, instead to treat them like human beings,” he said.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said the new court would help connect the women – and sometimes men – connect with social services so they can turn away from prostitution.

“We want to offer those individuals facing misdemeanor prostitution charges with the tools and resources necessary to leave the life of prostitution, and turn their lives around,” she said.

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Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said, instead of prosecution, defendants will get mostly treatment and help from social service agencies.

“They will learn how to break their pasts, and cut all ties with those who have abused them, or dragged them into living lives of desperation,” she said.

Dr. Erica Harding, program administrator for the Christian Community Health Center, said programs like hers can help prostitutes break a cycle that is often hard to break.

“Having housing, and having a safe place, and providing employment are some of the top ways to kind of get people to change in turning their lives around,” she said.
Alvarez said the new court would help the legal system, as well as the women

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“It’s a great way to help unclog the criminal justice system,” she said.