One of the most interesting laws passed this year by the Alabama Legislature provides for chemical castration for persons convicted of sex crimes against children.
Already, constitutional concerns are being raised about using a medical procedure as criminal punishment. Proponents counter — perhaps correctly — that the measure is constitutional because it is voluntary. In other words, an inmate is not forced to seek parole, but can simply serve his full term and get out of prison.
The new law, when it goes into effect in about three months, will require that inmates take certain medications administered by the Alabama Department of Health at least a month before being released. The medications will block testosterone production, thus reducing or eliminating the sex drive.
The meds are to be administered to persons convicted of sex crimes against children ages 7 to 13. No parole is available for offenders of children 6 and under.
Most sex offenders are men, but some are women. They would be given a different set of drugs. In cases involving men and women, the offender will be responsible for paying for the medications, which will continue to be administered after prison release until a judge releases the offender from taking the meds. Allowance will be made for those unable to pay.
The measure was sponsored by Rep. Steve Hurst (R-Munford). Alabama is believed to be the eighth state with a chemical castration law, the first being California in 1996. Officials from states with laws on the books say in practice chemical castration is rarely used.
Concerns have been raised about such laws’ implementation and effectiveness. It may deter those sexually attracted to children, but many such crimes are committed by persons who are drunk, on drugs or mentally ill. Do you chemically castrate them too?
Unequal enforcement, not based on credible standards, is the type of issue that will be raised in a challenge to the law.
In addition, forced medical procedures are not favored by the courts. Remember the Tuskegee syphilis study?
And we have to face the fact that sometimes children just make up stories. I have done jury trials in which that was the case. Fortunately, in the most egregious cases my clients were acquitted, but the trials could have gone the other way.
If my clients had been convicted, had been sent to prison and had to be chemically castrated upon release, it would have amounted to a miscarriage of justice — even if their sex drive would have returned at some point.
Retired Auburn attorney Don Eddins is publisher of The Auburn Villager newspaper and the online publication, auburnvillager.com. Before going into law, he was state Capitol reporter for The Huntsville Times and state editor for The Columbus Ledger. Email him your comments about the newspaper to firstname.lastname@example.org.