If you’re a sex offender in Oklahoma, you could be facing a new punishment soon, courtesy of state legislators: Chemical castration.
According to The Associated Press, the state is considering becoming the eighth to allow the hormonal treatment to be used on individuals convicted of a sexually violent offense as a condition of their release.
State Rep. Rick West, a first-term Republican, proposed the bill at the behest of a constituent.
“When I knocked on that guy’s door when I was campaigning, he said: ‘I’ll vote for you if you’ll run this bill,'” West said.
“Under the bill, anyone convicted of a sexually violent offense could be required as a condition of release to take the drugs designed to reduce a male offender’s testosterone and sexual libido,” the AP reported. “A second offense would require the treatment unless a court determined it wouldn’t be effective.”
The American Civil Liberties Union rather predictably came out against the measure, saying it violates the Eighth Amendment.
“It’s hard to imagine this couldn’t be considered cruel or unusual,” Oklahoma ACLU spokeswoman Allie Shinn said.
“I don’t want to place too much faith in the Oklahoma Legislature to avoid blatantly unconstitutional proposals, but we’re hopeful this bill, as written, is just too extreme to move.”
Unfortunately for Shinn, there are a number of states that have approved it, meaning it’s not all that unusual. Since California adopted chemical castration as an option back in 1996 (yes, California), Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin have all adopted some form of chemical castration. In Texas, repeat offenders can opt for surgical castration as a condition of release.
While the lawfulness of chemical castration has never been argued before the Supreme Court, that likely has to do with the low numbers of offenders who voluntarily opt for the treatments, apparently instead preferring to remain behind bars.
However, in a 2002 decision, McKune vs. Lile, the court found on a 5-4 vote that a Kansas treatment program for sex offenders that forced them to admit their guilt did not violate the Fifth Amendment in part because it was a “clinical rehabilitative program” with a “legitimate penological objective.” Presumably, were a case on chemical castration to come up before the court, part of whether it violated the Eighth Amendment would have to do with whether it met those standards.
And, by golly, we have evidence proving that as well!
In a study published in 2005, German academics
“Chemical castration is half advertising slogan, half fantasy,” Frank Zimring, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told the AP. “There are chemicals which are supposed to, if dosages are maintained, reduce sex drives. That isn’t castration.”
However, chemical castration can have many of the same effects of physical castration, including the dramatic reduction of testosterone and sexual urges. The primary difference in terms sex offender treatment, aside from the permanent disfigurement itself, is that it’s non-invasive and reversible. Quibbling over how its marketed seems to be a cheap complaint.
There’s also the fact that chemical castration has rarely been used, although that could certainly change. The wording of the Oklahoma bill, in which “anyone convicted of a sexually violent offense” might be required to undergo treatment as a condition of being released, could certainly increase its use to a considerable extent.
Ineffective? Almost certainly not. Unconstitutional? Unlikely. Advertising slogan? Whatever. It’s a reasonable, effective step to stop repeat offenses among sexually violent criminals, and we hope Oklahoma — and more states — take it up.
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