MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama lawmaker is calling for convicted sex offenders to pay for their own surgical castration.
Steve Hurst, a Republican from Munford, Ala., has introduced a bill that would require sex offenders older than 21 to pay for their own surgical castration before being released from state custody.
The bill would limit the procedure to people convicted of "certain sex offenses" against victims 12 years old or younger.
Hurst has attempted to pass similar legislation for more than a decade, introducing nearly identical bills seven times since 2006, most of which never made it out of committee. He said he was moved to begin pushing for the legislation after a foster parent advocacy group visited his office some years ago and relayed a "horrible" story of abuse.
"I've often wondered what that child went through, physically and mentally, and what kind of shape he's in now," Hurst said Monday. "They (sex offenders) have marked these children for life. They will never get over it. And if they've marked children for life, they need to be marked for life."
Hurst in 2005 agreed to remove castration requirements from legislation setting tougher sentences for sex offenders. Several House members at the time told The Associated Press they feared the castration language would have made the bill unconstitutional. In 2011, Hurst co-sponsored a bill that classified the sexual abuse of a child 6 years or younger as a capital offense, allowing courts to sentence offenders to life without parole.
Several states already have laws mandating chemical or voluntary surgical castration, though it's unclear how often the procedures are used. No states have mandatory surgical castration laws.
Chemical castrations allow sex offenders to receive regular injections of a drug that lowers testosterone to pre-puberty levels and reduces libido.
Civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union argue that castration is a "cruel and unusual punishment."
"Some people have said it's inhumane," Hurst said. "But what's more inhumane than molesting a child?"
Dr. Frederick Berlin, founder of a sexual disorders clinic at John Hopkins University, said lowering testosterone levels reduces libido and combats sexual urges, which could possibly reduce recidivism in some cases.
But not all sex offenses are sexually motivated, Berlin said. Offenders may be motivated by drug and alcohol abuse, anger or a fundamental lack of conscience.
"There are many sex offenders who aren't driven by intense sexual urges," Berlin said. "Some of these folks have other mental health issues, so it could just lull us into a false sense of security."
In addition, if not closely monitored, offenders could possibly reverse the procedure by taking testosterone, which can be procured online. Mandated chemical castration can be monitored more closely because doctors can notify authorities if a patient doesn't show up for a regular treatment.
"Just to do it as a one-glove-fits-all is very unlikely to be helpful," Berlin said. "I do think there is a role for medicines that lower sexual drive and enable people to be in better control. But this should be through a collaborative effort between the criminal justice and the scientific medical community."
Hurst has considered chemical castration legislation, and might again in the future, but he worries the drugs to induce chemical castration could become less effective over time. He realizes surgical castration may not stop offenders in all cases, but it makes a strong statement.
"If you take one step forward, it's better than taking no steps at all," Hurst said.