Few crimes result in the sort of outrage that surrounds sex offenses, particularly when the victim is a child. In recent years, states have passed laws increasing prison sentences for sex crimes against children. State and federal governments have also cooperated in mandating sex offender registration for sexual offenders and making such information available to the public.
Some states have also turned to chemical and surgical castration of sex offenders as a punishment or tool of rehabilitation for those released from prison. Although this may seem like a radical approach, supporters say castration helps ensure public safety once offenders return back into society.
Repeat sex offenders, especially child rapists, often exhibit serious mental health concerns. The public has heightened concern about the risk of recidivism. Indeed, some sex offenders themselves volunteer for treatment as an appropriate way to prevent them from reoffending.
Through this article, you can learn about the use of surgical and chemical castration for sex offenders in the criminal justice system. The article will discuss the states' varied approaches to this issue. It will also address criticism of the practice from opponents.
Chemical Castration for Sex Offenders
Currently, several states, including California and Florida, permit the injection of convicted sex offenders with chemical treatments designed to quell their sex drive. Often called "chemical castration," these treatments aim to lower the testosterone levels of male sex offenders.
States may often use medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) treatment or an equivalent hormone therapy. MPA is also known under the brand name Depo Provera. It has been used as a birth control medication for women.
When used in men, it lowers testosterone production. Advocates state that MPA makes no permanent physical change to the body. To be effective, it has to be regularly maintained. Advocates believe that the treatment is most effective on sex offenders who have unusually strong urges that take the form of sexual fantasies.
There may be side effects to chemical castration. Using MPA over a long time may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. The use of MPA for the treatment of sex offenders has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are also questions about its coercive nature.
Opponents claim that forcing chemical castration, like forced sterilization, violates a person's civil rights. It may violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
Surgical Castration for Sex Offenders
Some states permit surgical castration for sex offenders. In men, this is called an orchiectomy. It can involve surgically removing one or both testicles. The goal of the surgery in this context is to lower testosterone production in male sex offenders to decrease their sex drive. Unlike chemical castration, surgical castration is permanent.
Surgical castration or sterilization in a woman is called oophorectomy. It involves removing one or both of the ovaries. It does not appear that any state provides for surgical castration of a woman as part of sentencing for a sex offense.
Different States' Approaches to Castration for Sex Offenders
In 1996, California became the first state in the U.S. to authorize castration as a condition of parole for certain sex offenses. The California Penal Code provides that offenders convicted of certain sex crimes against children under 13 years of age may undergo chemical or surgical castration before parole. On a first offense, whether to impose MPA or an equivalent treatment on parole falls to the discretion of the court. On a second offense, the law mandates MPA or equivalent treatment on parole. As an alternative, the offender can elect to undergo surgical castration and avoid hormone therapy.
In Florida, the law applies to those convicted of sexual battery. This includes those whose victims were minors or adults. As with the law in California, Florida provides that the decision to order MPA treatment on a first offense is a discretionary decision for the judge. On a second offense, it is mandatory. Florida law requires a judge to get the opinion of a medical expert on whether the offender is an appropriate candidate.
Judges must also set a term for treatment, which can be for life. An offender can request surgical castration as an alternative. The court can approve that if appropriate. Treatment is not ordered in lieu of punishment in Florida. It only begins at the offender's release back into society. Failure to comply or show up for treatment appointments results in a new felony charge.
Pursuant to a 1997 law, Texas permits surgical castration of offenders. Candidates must be at least 21 years of age and have had at least two sex offense convictions. They must request the procedure in writing and sign an admission to their offenses. They must also pass a mental health evaluation and meet with a monitor.
In 2019, Alabama adopted a mandatory chemical castration law for child sex offenders. The law forces adult sex offenders whose victims were 12 or younger to begin the treatment at least a month before getting released on parole. They must continue until a court determines that they can stop. Offenders must pay for their own treatment, but the inability to pay cannot be used as grounds to deny parole. Violating the chemical castration order can result in a new felony charge.
State legislators continue to explore the use of surgical and chemical castration for sex offenders. Other states with current laws like those mentioned above include Iowa, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Montana. Some states such as Oregon and Georgia, have stopped their use of chemical castration in sexual offenses and repealed these laws.
Criticism of Castration for Sex Offenders
Critics of castration treatment include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU claims many of these laws violate sex offenders' constitutional rights. The ACLU contends that chemical castration violates an offender's implied right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment, rights of due process and equal protection, and the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Critics often see castration as a violation of basic human rights, but they also question the effectiveness of surgical or chemical castration on sex offenders. Those subjected to castration may retain some sexual function and can commit sexual assault in the future. Even surgically castrated offenders have a small rate of recidivism. Testosterone-boosting drugs are available that can counteract the effects of chemical castration.
Opponents also focus on the nature of sexual assault deriving from a desire for power and control over a victim. Castration may have no effect on those with antisocial personality disorder.
Get Professional Help With Your Sex Offense Case
Sex offenses bring great scrutiny today due to the very serious and life-altering damage they cause to victims. In some instances, state lawmakers have provided the option of surgical or chemical castration for sex offenders prior to their release. If you have questions about sex offender treatment beyond what you've learned here, a criminal defense attorney can help you understand the legal options and the rights at issue in your state.