March 1, 2024

Alabama OKs chemical castration for sex offenders

But is it “cruel and unusual punishment”?

Alabama has joined several other American states in requiring sex offenders to be chemically castrated when they are released from prison. Governor Kay Ivey signed House Bill 379 this week.

The new law applies to men over 21 who have molested children under the age of 13. The procedure is potentially reversible, but the offenders must take the medication for the rest of their lives. Failure to comply would send them back behind bars. They are also required to pay for the “treatment” unless a court rules that they cannot afford it. The medicine alone is said to cost US$1000 a month.

According to USA Today, chemical castration is legal in seven other states and territories, California, Florida, Guam, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Wisconsin.

Leniency for paedophiles is not a trending human rights issue, but some groups claim that chemical castration is unconstitutional. “It certainly presents serious issues about involuntary medical treatment, informed consent, the right to privacy, and cruel and unusual punishment. And, it is a return, if you will, to the dark ages,” said Randall Marshall, of the Alabama ACLU. “This kind of punishment for crimes is something that has been around throughout history, but as we’ve gotten more enlightened in criminal justice we’ve gotten away from this kind of retribution.”

Even in late 19th Century America, surgical castration was sometimes used to treat sex offenders, although this fell out of favour and was deemed by the US Supreme Court to be “barbaric” in 1910. The preferred option of the bill’s sponsor was surgical castration, but had to settle for the chemical variety. “I’d prefer it be surgical, because the way I look at it, if they’re going to mark these children for life, they need to be marked for life,” he told local media. “My preference would be, if someone does a small infant child like that, they need to die.”

It is also objected that chemical castration is simply not effective in stopping paedophilic behaviour. According to an article in The Atlantic, “Most research in the area puts sexual desire low on the list of reasons people assault children. The best predictor of sexual assault is not libido, research has shown, but ‘an early and persistent general propensity to act in an antisocial manner during childhood and adolescence.’”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge.

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