State Rep. Rick West, a first-term Republican lawmaker is pushing to add Oklahoma to the list of states in which so-called chemical castration is an option for sex offenders.
West said he filed the bill at the request of a constituent and he fully intends to push for its passage. It is likely to face strong opposition, even in a conservative state with a tough-on-crime reputation.
If the bill is passed, Oklahoma would join at least seven other states that have laws allowing courts to order chemical treatments that reduce male testosterone for certain sex offenders. Experts say the punishment is rarely carried out and described it as a “half fantasy” version of criminal justice.
“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.
West has introduced a measure that would allow tobacco to be used inside state prisons. He later said he’s confident his constituents would support efforts to prevent sex crimes, especially against children.
Anyone convicted of a sexually violent offense under the bill could be required as a condition of release, to take the drugs designed to reduce a male offender’s testosterone and libido. After a second offense, they would require the treatment unless a court determined it wouldn’t be effective.
In 1996, California became the first state to pass such a law and since then at least six other states have passed laws allowing it in some form, including Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Texas, repeat sex offenders can voluntarily elect to be surgically castrated.
In order for the procedure to be used in California, a judge would have to issue an order as part of a convict’s sentence. Prisons spokesman Luis Patino said only a couple of parolees are currently required to receive the treatment every year. Prison officials in Montana and Louisiana are aware of only one case in each state in the last decade in which a judge ordered the treatment.
Oklahoma’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter is concerned about West’s proposal. They said that requiring unwilling offenders to undergo such treatments likely violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
“It’s hard to imagine this couldn’t be considered cruel or unusual,” said chapter spokeswoman Allie Shinn, who added there’s little scientific evidence to suggest such treatments are even effective.
“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,” Shinn said.
Drugs used to diminish an offender’s sex drive can be effective, Frank Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on sex crimes said they are most successful with offenders who want to change their behavior and take them as prescribed.
He said the laws are generally about good politics since sex offenders are an easy target, and not necessarily about sound criminal justice policy.
“Chemical castration is half advertising slogan, half fantasy,” Zimring said. “There are chemicals which are supposed to if dosages are maintained, reduce sex drives. That isn’t castration.”
The Oklahoma Legislature has entertained various bills involving the castration of sex offenders over the years. In 2002, a measure allowing chemical or surgical castration of sex offenders made it all the way to the desk of Republican Gov. Frank Keating, who promptly vetoed it and derided it as “silly.”
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