An Alabama lawmaker recently reintroduced a controversial bill for the 2014 legislative session that will require convicted sex offenders to be surgically castrated.
Republican representative Steve Hurst’s proposal will require offenders over the age of 21, whose victims were under 12, to pay for their own surgery before their release from prison.
Currently there are nine states that practice chemical castration on sex offenders, administering chemicals that make it impossible to perform sexual acts. Hurst’s proposal, however, advocates surgical castration—the permanent alternative. Alabama would be the second state to adopt this measure, joining only Texas.
His bill is faced with opposition from many groups—Amnesty International, for example, a non-governmental organization focused on human rights, called castration “inhumane treatment,” arguing that the procedure is “tantamount to torture.”
Paul Tierney, a counselor and an alumnus from Montevallo’s master’s in counseling program, indicated a similar sentiment, saying that, with certain populations like sex offenders, “the public is generally more concerned with retribution and less concerned for the care and rights of the offender.”
“They may be more likely to support a practice like physical castration,” he explained, “which I’m sure is highly questionable under the standards of practice for the medical profession, our country’s Constitution and other legal principles, and, most of all, standards of basic human rights.”
There are more fundamental problems with the practice that even those who advocate it have to consider, however. Fred Berlin, founder of the sexual disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins University, said surgery may work for those whose sex drives motivate their crimes, but those with different motives are largely unaffected. Furthermore, offenders can potentially counteract the treatment later by boosting their testosterone levels through gels and patches.
Still others, like one victim who wished to remain anonymous, retain the stance that “if there is even a chance castration would cut back on offenses, it is society’s responsibility to make it happen in order to keep others safe.”
The now 29-year-old said she and her older brother were molested by their step-father for six years. The abuse started when she was nine years old. Though it has been years since it ended, she said the experience still influences her everyday decisions.
“I don’t think people understand how damaging that is to a kid and how it kind of follows them for the rest of their life,” she said. “If you can, kind of, possibly, prevent that person from doing that again by removing the desire or ability, I think it makes it worth it.”
She was less interested in how it may encroach on the offender’s rights.
“People just spend so much time trying to decide whether or not this or that is going to help the offender, but what about the victims,” she asked. “If this thing that they want to do will make these people less likely to hurt children in the future, I don’t think it’s even a question.”
“People say that it’s not fair to the offender, but it’s not fair to put other kids at risk either,” she concluded.
Most, including Tierney, advocate a hybrid form of treatment for offenders.
“Briefly, I think some medical treatment—shown to have very limited side effects—which is entirely voluntary and reversible, may be appropriate in some cases in conjunction with mental health treatment,” he said.
Hurst’s bill, however, did not cover this aspect of the treatment.
This is the second time Hurst has attempted to have his bill pushed through the legislature, but he said he feels as though he has gained more support since last time.