The Offenders Prostitution Program, more commonly referred to as the "John School," was a response to an on-going community concern in the Frogtown and Aurora/St. Anthony neighborhoods, home to the highest incidences of prostitution and sex-trafficking within the city of Saint Paul. Previous approaches to curbing the problem involved putting prostituted women and girls in jail and requiring customers, or “Johns,” to pay a fine. This approach did nothing to deter the activity and proved extremely costly to the county. Funds were being expended to keep women in jail without addressing their deep-seated issues of abuse, addiction, and enslavement. At the same time, the sanctions imposed upon the "Johns,” typically residents of wealthier, middle-class communities, proved to be an inadequate consequence and did not address recurrent patterns of behavior.
Under a grant from the National Institute of Justice, Breaking Free became one of six programs in the country that was awarded funding for the purpose of forming a committee of community leaders and key stakeholders to address these issues. In February 1999, committee members attended an intensive training in San Francisco, California. Upon their return, a concept for an innovative and more effective solution to the pervasive problem of sex trafficking and prostitution was born. This ultimately led to the development and implementation of a program for "Johns" that was both punitive and educational in nature.
In July of 1999, Breaking Free, in cooperation with Ramsey County District Court Judge Lawrence Cohen, Court Administrator Sue Alliegro, the Second Judicial District and other members of the bench, the Saint Paul City Attorney, the Ramsey County Public Defenders Office, Ramsey County Community Corrections, the Frogtown Community Group, and the Saint Paul Police, convened the first John School class. For the past 16 years, Breaking Free's John School has operated to educate the primary consumers of prostitution and stop the demand for the exploitation of Minnesota's women and girls.
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