In April 2021, the Manhattan DA’s Office announced that it would stop prosecuting theoffenses of prostitution and loitering for the purpose of prostitution. The Office shifted itspolicy, the first of its kind in New York State and one of the first in the nation, in an effort tominimize contact with the criminal justice system and the adverse consequences of arrest andconviction for these offenses. The Office promptly moved to dismiss nearly 6,000 pendingcases.
The policy shift was years in the making — the result of careful exploration of alternatives incollaboration with affected communities in the face of strong competing values and interests.At the center of the effort was Carolina Holderness (CLS ‘06), who in 2017 became the Chief ofthe Office's Human Trafficking Response Unit. From the start, Carolina realized she could notresponsibly make and enforce policy in the area without learning from affected communitieshow different policies would impact them and working alongside them in her ongoing efforts.
Among those with whom Carolina met in the early stages of her learning journey was CeciliaGentili, an advocate for individuals engaged in sex work. Cecilia reframed the way Carolinathought about the Office’s approach to offenses of “prostitution” and “loitering for thepurpose of prostitution,” and together, Carolina and Cecilia generated a set of reforms thatpaved the way for the dramatic April 2021 policy shift.
Davis Polk Leadership Initiative,
Partnering for Change: Lawyer-Leadership in the Manhattan DA's Office,
Case Studies on Lawyer-Leadership, June 1, 2021 Draft
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/leadership_initiative/3