Few crimes result in the sort of outrage that surrounds sex offenses, particularly when the victim is a minor. Seeking vengeance, an outraged public called for one of the most remarkable punishments in the U.S. criminal justice system: surgical or chemical castration for sex offenders. Although this may seem like a radical approach, supporters say this is the only way to ensure public safety for those who aren't incarcerated. Indeed, some of the victimizers themselves agree with treatment as the best course of action.
Through this article you can learn about the use of surgical and chemical castration for sex offenders, different approaches employed by the states, and criticism of the practice from opponents.
Chemical Castration for Sex Offenders: The Basics
Currently several states, including California and Florida, permit convicted sex offenders to be injected with either Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or luteinizing-hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists. Often called "chemical castration," these treatments are intended to quell the sex drive of male sex offenders by lowering their testosterone levels. Neither type of drug used renders any permanent physical change to the body. The treatment is believed to be most effective on sex offenders who possess uncontrollable biological urges that take the form of sexual fantasies. These urges can usually only be satisfied by assaulting others in order to bring about the offender's perception of the fantasy.
Different State Approaches to Castration for Sex Offenders
Both the California and Florida statutes provide for mandatory injections for repeat sex offenders, as well as discretionary injections for first-time offenders. Despite the mandatory language in the Florida law, the law has apparently been invoked only a few times since its passage in 1997. In California, at least 15 repeat sex offenders have requested surgical castration as a way to avoid indefinite incarceration. At least two offenders have been released from state mental hospitals following surgical castration.
Pursuant to a 1997 law, Texas permits surgical castration of offenders. By May 2005, three men had undergone the voluntary procedure. Candidates must be at least 21 years of age, have had at least two sex offense convictions, and have undergone at least 18 months of sex offender treatment, including chemical castration injections, to understand how their bodies might react with less testosterone.
In 2019 Alabama became the latest state to adopt a mandatory chemical castration law. 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 and to continue until a court determines that they can stop. Offenders must pay for their own treatment, though inability to pay cannot be used as grounds to deny parole.
States continue to experiment with various types of surgical and chemical castration for sex offenders. Colorado state prison officials have been experimenting with the administration of anti-depressants to offenders in order to determine whether they may be an effective tool in controlling their sexual compulsions.
Criticism of Castration for Sex Offenders
Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), charge that chemical castration violates 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 of cruel and unusual punishment.
Critics also question the effectiveness of surgical or chemical castration on sex offenders. Those subjected to castration may retain some sexual function. Even surgically castrated offenders have a small rate of recidivism. Furthermore, testosterone-boosting drugs are available that can counteract the effects of castration.
Get Professional Help With Your Sex Offense Case
Sex offenses are taken very seriously because they often are committed by individuals with acute mental health problems. Types of sex offenses range from indecent exposure and statutory rape, to rape and other violent crimes. In some instances, the option of surgical or chemical castration for sex offenders may exist. If you're involved in such a case and have questions beyond what you've learned here, a criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and legal options.