A new Alabama law will require people convicted of certain sex felonies to undergo chemical castration before they can be released on parole. This requirement is meant to serve as a deterrent to stop convicted child molesters from committing similar crimes in the future. But some critics say that this measure is both ineffective and inhumane.

The Bill (HB 379) was approved on May 31 by both houses of the state’s legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on June 10. According to a spokeswoman for the governor, Gina Maiola, the chemical castration law will apply to people who commit sex offenses after September 1 this year [1].

Control it or lose it
The chemical castration states that anyone convicted of a sex-related offense involving a child younger than 13 years will start receiving chemical treatments that inhibit, or block the production of testosterone not less than one month prior to their release from prison. These treatments will be administered by the state’s Department of Public Health until a judge decides they are no longer necessary. The parolee is also required to pay for all of the costs associated with the treatment in addition to any court costs that may arise [2].

This measure, although extreme, does have a scientific rationale. Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men, it is also responsible for quick, impulsive decision making. By treating known sex offenders with testosterone inhibitors before their release, Alabama lawmakers hope to dampen their sex drive and prevent a relapse, essentially “castrating” them. According to Gov. Ivey, this is “a step toward protecting children in Alabama.”

The law also states that offenders can choose to stop receiving the treatment at any time and continue with their sentence. However, if they decide to halt the treatment without prior approval, they will be considered guilty of a Class C felony; punishable by up to 10 years [3].

Human right violation
Several critics of the law claim that it goes against the fundamental rights of Alabamians as it forces them to alter their body chemistry against their will. “This chemical castration bill is a violation of the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,” says Dillon Nettles, a policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama [4]. Forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Renee Sorrentino, believes that chemical castration “is only effective in some sex offenders and needs to be coupled with therapy and medical evaluation.”

In response to several allegations that the mandated chemical castration was inhumane, State Rep. Steve Hurst replied: “I asked them, ‘What’s more inhumane than when you take a little infant child and you sexually molest that infant child when the child cannot defend themselves or get away, and they have to go through all the things they have to go through?’”

How effective is it?
As chemical castration leaves the testes intact, the process is reversible and does not prevent a man from reproducing. Some studies on the success rate of this treatment have shown some success in the way previous offenders show sexual desire toward children while others have found no significant effect. Alabama isn’t the only state to pass a chemical castration law: Washington, Texas, Georgia, Montana, Florida, Louisiana, and Oregon also require chemical castration prior to parole.

Reference:

  • Alabama approves ‘chemical castration’ bill for some sex offenders“, The Washington Post. June, 2019.
  • Bill HB379
  • Alabama Passes Bill Requiring Child Molesters to Undergo and Pay for Chemical Castration“, The Mind Unleashed. June, 2019.
  • Alabama’s law forcing sex offenders to get chemically castrated, explained“, Vox. June, 2019.
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