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Louisiana lawmakers approve surgical castration of sex offenders

Louisiana lawmakers on Monday approved a bill that would expand judges’ powers to sentence people convicted of certain sex crimes against children to physical castration.

If passed, the bill would allow judges to order surgical castration, which is more invasive than the chemical methods outlined in a 2008 law. Surgical castration orders would be allowed in cases involving victims under the age of 13.

Chemical castrations use hormonal medications that decrease sexual performance and libido, while surgical or physical castrations involve removing the testes or ovaries to stop the production of sex hormones. Chemical castrations, unlike physical methods, are generally transient and are already allowed in Louisiana for sex crimes against children such as rape, sexual assault and molestation.

The bill must still be signed by Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry (R). It requires a court-appointed medical expert to agree that the person is suitable for a surgical procedure and that it be performed while he/she is still in custody.

If someone refuses the procedure, he or she could face charges that could carry up to five years in prison.

“We have a responsibility and an obligation when it comes to the most vulnerable among us … I don’t feel like our children are safe,” Sen. Regina Ashford Barrow (D), the bill’s sponsor, said during a hearing last month . . Barrow acknowledged that her previous efforts to introduce the bill were met with resistance, mainly because of the high number of wrongful convictions in Louisiana. However, she said she was concerned about “repeat offenders” and stressed that the lives of victims were “forever changed” by sexual violence.

Bruce Reilly, a community organizer who advocates for formerly incarcerated people, argued before the committee that surgical methods risk violating constitutional rights and that Louisiana has no need for additional castration methods.

“Our concern is that we’re entering the physical realm of mutilating someone’s body, and it’s a slippery slope as to what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment,” he told the state Legislature.

“There is no conclusive evidence that castration actually takes away that problem in someone’s mind,” he added. “…It doesn’t necessarily affect the person’s criminal tendencies in the long term.”

In a statement posted online, the Restorative Action Alliance called the bill “state-sanctioned eugenics” and “an affront to bodily autonomy” that would violate the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment. The National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws called the bill “ineffective at best and barbaric at worst.”

A handful of US states – including California, Texas and Florida – allow the castration of people convicted of sex crimes against children, although some allow only chemical castration, while others offer physical castration as an option. Countries such as South Korea and Poland allow chemical castration for some sex offenders, but others have halted the practice.

John McMillan, a professor of bioethics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said the United States stands out on the world stage by allowing castration orders in some states. Research on the effects of physical castration on sex crime recidivism is limited, he added, in part because “it has only happened in a small number of countries.”

A few studies have suggested that physical castration may help perpetrators who choose it as a therapeutic option, but “the evidence base, even if it is clear what someone wants, is quite weak,” he said.

“What reasons does the court have to think that physical castration will indeed work? You may end up just removing parts of people’s bodies,” McMillan said. ‘Think of it as taking someone’s hand away because he or she is a thief. It is tempting to think that it has more to do with the symbolic purpose of punishing and doing something punitive, rather than anything that will eliminate the offense in the future.”