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A new bill introduced in Tennessee mimics legislation passed last year in Alabama that would require chemical castration of those convicted of child sex offenses as a condition of parole.
Piggybacking off a new Alabama law, a Tennessee state lawmaker wants to require sex offenders convicted of assaulting children to agree to “chemical castration” before they would be eligible for parole.
Child rape is considered a Class A felony in Tennessee, making it one of the most serious crimes in the legal system. Judges are required to sentence offenders to a minimum of 25 years in prison, while the maximum term is 60 years. A defendant convicted of raping a child under three can receive a life sentence.
Because of the long sentences, the number of child sex offenders who get paroled is small, but state Rep. Bruce Griffey said that the public still needs increased protection from them. That’s why he introduced new legislation to amend the Tennessee code and add new conditions of parole for those convicted of sexual offenses of children 13 years of age or younger.
Under his proposal, sex offenders who are eligible for parole would be required to undergo chemical castration at least one month before being released from prison. When a similar measure was approved in Alabama last year, critics questioned both the efficacy of the treatment and whether it was ethical.
Griffey, a Republican, said that he has worked as a criminal defense attorney with clients accused of these sorts of crimes. “I I have not come across any literature that tends to indicate these individuals ever really get ‘fixed,’ and by ‘fixed’ I mean through mental health treatment,” he said. “It seems like there’s something wrong with their wiring and those urges to have sex with children never go away. This may not cure them, but if it’s even the slightest bit effective in preventing a future victim, then we ought to explore it.”
Chemical castration is a process that uses a pill or injection to administer a chemical that reduces, inhibits, or blocks the production of testosterone, thereby rendering a man infertile (the specific treatment mentioned in the Tennessee bill would not be effective for women). The treatment is not permanent and must be administered on a regular basis to remain effective. Griffey’s bill specifies that “the person may elect to stop receiving the treatment at any time and shall not be forced to receive the treatment; however, such refusal constitutes a violation of the person's parole.”
The bill also stipulates that those who receive the treatment must pay for it themselves, although a person cannot be denied parole solely based “on the person's inability to pay for the costs associated with the treatment."
The language of the bill is nearly identical to one that was passed last year in Alabama.
In a statement, Randall Marshall, the executive director with the ACLU of Alabama, said that the law was a form of cruel and unusual punishment. “It also implicates right to privacy. Forced medications are all concerns,” Marshall said. “They really misunderstand what sexual assault is about, sexual assault isn’t about sexual gratification. It’s about power, it’s about control.”
When the legislation was signed by Gov. Kay Ivey in June 2019, the ACLU of Alabama said that they were considering bringing a legal challenge, but no court case has yet been filed.
The effects of chemical castration on recidivism rates for child sex offenders isn’t well-known. A 2013 study of a chemical castration program in Korea and a 2006 study of a program in Oregon suggested that the treatment reduced recidivism. But researchers in Korea cautioned that chemical castration appeared to work only when offenders were simultaneously given access to comprehensive psychotherapeutic treatment. “Chemical castration under the current laws is vaguely positioned between punishment and treatment due to lack of informed consent by the recipient, and so remains a problematic issue for medical ethics,” the researchers wrote.
Other medical experts suggest that reducing testosterone does not treat the underlying psychological impulses that lead someone to commit a child sex crime. Amnesty International has also taken a stance against the practice, calling it “inhumane.”
Florida, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Montana, and Texas also have laws on the books requiring chemical castration of child sex offenders, but the practice seems to be used sparingly. California, which was the first state to pass such a law in 1996, only administered the treatment to two parolees last year. Georgia and Oregon have both had chemical castration laws or pilot programs repealed.
Griffey said that if his bill becomes law in Tennessee it would not be imposed on anyone currently convicted, because it would be “better to just have this as a policy going forward.”
This wouldn’t be the first Tennessee program to promote infertility amongst incarcerated or recently released people. Until May 2019, a county program offered incarcerated people a reduced sentence if they got a birth control implant or vasectomy. In total, 32 women and 38 men agreed to the terms before the program was shut down by a federal court when some incarcerated people argued that they were unfairly punished for refusing the option.
Regardless of the controversy about castration requirements in other states, Griffey said he was inspired by the bill’s passage in Alabama and wants to see it replicated in Tennessee. “This isn’t a broad panacea, it’s a specific heinous crime,” he said. “If this measure might prevent even one child rape, it’s worth it to me.”
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.