HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Alabama Legislature has passed a measure that calls for chemical castration of people convicted of child sex offenses, but veteran Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel said while the bill is well-intended, it faces a number of challenges.
McDaniel pointed out chemical castration -- already used in other states, including California -- has not been challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court, but potential objections to the practice could include violating the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, violations of due process and not treating those offenders equally under the law.
The measure, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, would be a condition of parole for someone convicted of a sex crime involving a child 13 or younger.
Alabama Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Talladega, said he's worked on the issue for years, after hearing a story of a young child's molestation. He said the story has haunted him and he's been determined to try and make a difference. Hurst said he'd tried to push a measure for surgical castration, but that didn't get much legislative support. But this year, the measure found traction, passing the House and passing unanimously in the Alabama Senate.
Hurst said the measure calls for the testosterone-lowering drug to be administered to offenders by the Alabama Department of Public Health. But he also wants to see doctors study the DNA and blood of offenders to determine which drugs will be most effective.
The measure calls for an offender to begin taking the chemical castration pills about a month before parole from prison. The recently released inmates will be expected to pay for it, but there are provisions for the state to cover the cost if they are indigent. The measure also makes it a probation violation if the offender fails to continue to take the medicine -- which would mean being returned to prison for the rest of their sentence. Not only that, failure to take the medicine would be a new Class C felony which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The measure may cover a relatively small number of offenders. Under Alabama law a person convicted of a felony sex charge against a child 12 or under is not eligible for parole, so the option of taking the medication as a parole condition wouldn't apply.
McDaniel says the offenders the bill is focused on are worthy targets, but not likely to operate in good faith.
"Anytime you have somebody trying to do something to help children, you’ve got to applaud that, but you also have to look at who you’re dealing with here," he said.
McDaniel says there has been no meaningful study of the effects of the drug on women. He says other problems will also have to be addressed, including the fact that sexual gratification isn't necessarily the underlying motive for child sex abuse.
"Number one – is it going to work? You can’t say it’s 100 percent," McDaniel said. "Number two, sex is not always the major factor in pedophilia, it can be a power imbalance, just wanting to hurt that child. And the third thing you've got a person who says, 'Yeah, I’ll take the pills.' He gets out of jail, doesn't take the pills, he disappears, you can’t find him. What’s he doing?"
Hurst said God will eventually reckon with those who abuse and hurt children, but if he can help in the meantime, he's intent on doing so.
"Like the legislator said if you help one child and I agree with that," McDaniel said. "If you help one child, but there’s a lot of downsides to (the measure), because you’ve got people that don’t play by the rules, or they wouldn’t be serving that 40 years anyway."