by Dale Chappell
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law May 30, 2019, a new law that requires certain categories of sex offenders to undergo chemical castration before they can be released from prison. The new law puts Alabama, once again, up against the Constitution and has critics questioning the ethics of such a law.
Every couple of years, lawmakers in Alabama have proposed some form of castration for sex offenders. And each time the idea has been set aside because of constitutional concerns. Well, this year it stuck. Lawmakers adopted a chemical castration method using medroxyprogesterone, more commonly known as Depo-Provera, a popular birth-control drug that blocks the body’s production of testosterone. The idea is that with less testosterone a sex offender won’t have the “urge” to reoffend.
Under the new law, those convicted of sex offenses against minors younger than 13 would be required to agree to “the receiving of medication, including but not limited to, medroxyprogesterone acetate treatment or its chemical equivalent,” before being paroled from prison. The drug would be administered by pill or injection until a judge determines it is no longer necessary. Any cost would be paid by the offender.
But Alabama is not alone in castrating sex offenders. At least six other states, including California, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin, have some sort of castration law for sex offenders. Those states usually apply their law to repeat offenders or offer castration as an alternative to a life sentence. And rarely is the law used in those states. Since 1997, when both Florida and Texas passed their castration laws, only a few sex offenders have been either surgically or chemically castrated.
Critics say there are two issues with Alabama’s castration law. First, they point out that even castrated sex offenders have reoffended. “It’s not clear that this actually has any effect and whether it’s even medically proven,” says Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.
Second, the new law has moral and constitutional concerns, they say. State Rep. Steve Hurst, who proposed Alabama’s castration law, supported it by saying, “If they’re going to mark these children for life, they need to be marked for life.” He continued, “My preference would be if someone does a small infant child like that, they need to die,” adding “God’s going to deal with them one day.”
Hurst had been repeatedly proposing the law over the last decade, and each time, the law was struck down over worries it would violate the Constitution. This time, though, his proposal got approved on the last day of the legislative session.
Religious zealots and vengeance seekers notwithstanding, Marshall noted that “when the state starts experimenting on people, I think it runs afoul of the Constitution.” The ACLU’s position is that requiring a sex offender to be castrated, either chemically or surgically, violates several constitutional amendments, including the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Sources: slate.com, findlaw.com
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