Controversial chemical castration bill signed into law in Alabama: "A return . . . to the dark ages"

Individuals convicted of sex crimes involving minors under the age of 13 must begin the process prior to release

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published June 11, 2019 11:25AM (EDT)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (AP/Brynn Anderson)
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (AP/Brynn Anderson)

A controversial chemical castration law has been signed by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in an attempt by the state to reduce the number of sex crimes against minors.

"This bill is a step toward protecting children in Alabama," Ivey said in a statement to CNN. The new law dictates that individuals convicted of sex crimes involving minors under the age of 13 must begin the process of chemical castration the month prior to being released from custody. Although offenders must pay for their own chemical castration, but they cannot be denied parole for their inability to afford the procedure.

The bill defines chemical castration as "the receiving of medication, including, but not limited to, medroxyprogesterone acetate treatment or its chemical equivalent, that, among other things, reduces, inhibits or blocks the production of testosterone, hormones, or other chemicals in a person's body."

The law also makes it clear that individuals required to use chemical castration risk losing their freedom should they stop doing so. The language states that "a parolee released on parole under this act shall authorize the Department of Public Health to share with the Board of Pardons and Paroles all medical records relating to the parolee's chemical castration treatment. A parolee may elect to stop receiving the treatment at any time and may not be forced to receive the treatment; provided, such refusal shall constitute a violation of his or her parole, and he or she shall be immediately remanded to the custody of the Department of Corrections for the remainder of the sentence from which he or she was paroled."

As the Washington Post explained in an article last week, "An offender could choose to stop getting the medication and return to prison to serve the remainder of their term. Anyone who stopped receiving the castration treatment without approval would be considered guilty of a Class C felony, punishable under Alabama law by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000."

The piece added that "chemical castration' is a misnomer, as the process leaves the testes intact, can be reversed and does not prevent a man from reproducing. It does not guarantee a man’s sexual urge will be eliminated. (There’s no consensus on whether chemical castration would be effective for women.)"

One concern which exists is that individuals who stop the procedure could become more likely to offend as a result of heightened libido.

"I don’t think there’s any evidence that stopping medication makes people more likely to offend," Professor Don Gruben of the University of Newcastle, the architect of an effort to create a voluntary chemical castration program in the U.K., told Psychology Today. "What sometimes happens is that people make the decision that they want to offend, and then they stop the medication to allow that to happen. Changes in testosterone take a long time, weeks or months to have an effect on things like sexual arousal and sex drive. There is some Korean work that shows that there is a rebound in testosterone, and people report a return of sexual urges and sexual thoughts. I don’t know that there was any evidence to show that was greater than it was at baseline."

Additional concerns are that the medical procedure is a violation of human rights, because it is involuntary, and violates the constitutional ban of "cruel and unusual punishments."

"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," Randall Marshall, the executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told CNN.
"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," Marshall added in his statement.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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