Chemical castration employs the drug medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), a female hormone that reduces the production and effect of testosterone, to control deviant sexual impulses and desires in convicted sex offenders. Chemical castration is typically performed after conviction for a sex-related crime and without the consent of the offender. The deterrent effect of chemical castration arguably makes society safer and more secure, at least with regard to the castrated individual; however, chemical castration also involves individual privacy rights because it constitutes a bodily invasion of the offender.
Until recently, castration was prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a cruel and unusual punishment. Since 1996, however, eight states have adopted (though two have since repealed) statutes permitting chemical castration of convicted sex offenders. Because chemical castration does not have the same physically maiming effect as orchiectomy (surgical castration), some argue that it is not a cruel and unusual punishment. Those who oppose chemical castration argue that the long-term negative health and mind-controlling effects of the hormones constitute a cruel and unusual punishment. This entry briefly reviews the state statutes and discusses the debates surrounding chemical castration.
Six states permit chemical castration for persons convicted of sex-related offenses: (1) California, (2) Florida, (3) Louisiana, (4) Montana, (5) Iowa, and (6) Wisconsin. At one time, both Georgia and Oregon enacted chemical castration laws, but those laws were repealed in 2006 and 2011, respectively.
California was the first state to implement a chemical castration statute. In California, a judge has the discretion to order chemical castration on a first-time conviction for committing forcible or statutory rape on a victim 12 years old or younger. On a second conviction, chemical castration is mandatory. Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, and Montana modeled their statutes after that of California. Each state considers the underlying offense, the victim’s age, and recidivism.
Wisconsin’s chemical castration statute is the broadest in the nation. For offenders in prison, the decision to castrate is made by the department of corrections and the parole commission, and castration may be imposed as a condition of probation or parole. For offenders who are civilly committed, the process varies slightly. The department of corrections prepares a treatment plan addressing the offender’s need for chemical castration after release. On review, the court may order chemical castration as a condition of release. Only those who have been convicted of a sex offense against a child 13 years of age or younger may be considered for chemical castration.
In terms of privacy, the aforementioned statutory schemes are problematic because they eliminate the offender’s right to bodily privacy. Notably absent from the statutes is any requirement for review by a physician, diagnosis of a sexual disorder, and informed consent. Some states do not even inform the offender as to the effects of chemical castration.
Those opposed to chemical castration argue that it is even more invasive and offensive than surgical castration. The female hormone MPA, commonly known as Depo-Provera, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only to prevent pregnancy in women. Side effects of the drug include testicular atrophy, reduction in sperm production, pulmonary embolisms, diabetes mellitus, depression, nightmares, weight gain, headaches, muscle cramps, dyspepsia, loss of bone mineral density, and gallstones. Women are advised not to use this method of contraception for more than 2 years, but a male who is sentenced to chemical castration will likely be administered the drug for many more years. In addition, the dosage for the purpose of chemical castration far exceeds the recommended dosage for use as a contraceptive. A man sentenced to chemical castration will receive anywhere from 4 times to 12 times the dosage approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Because the ultimate purpose of chemical castration is to control the thought process and bodily functions of a person in order to prevent possible sex offenses in the future, opponents argue that chemical castration necessarily violates the integrity of the person as well as his human dignity.
On the other hand, proponents of chemical castration view this punishment as a legitimate way to protect society from dangerous sexual offenders. They argue that the government has a compelling interest in protecting society from dangerous sexual offenders and that the administration of a drug is a minimally invasive and narrowly tailored way to accomplish this goal. This, in turn, reduces the need for law enforcement surveillance to achieve public security. Because the effects are not permanent (the effects of chemical castration reverse when the individual stops receiving MPA), the punishment does not maim in the same way as surgical castration, yet it yields the same protection against recidivism and reoffense by reducing testosterone levels and the desire to commit sex-related offenses.
In addition, releasing offenders from prison under the condition that they submit to chemical castration drastically reduces the significant costs associated with criminal punishment, and consent to chemical castration obviates the invasion of privacy inherent in castration ordered over the offender’s wishes. From a cost-benefit analysis, chemical castration significantly reduces the costs to society of punishing, monitoring, and protecting against sex offenders.
The greatest challenges with chemical castration lie in the statutory schemes adopted by the various states. It has been argued that to ensure appropriate sentencing, the statutes should account for some form of medical review and diagnosis. Not all sex offenders are created equal—and some offenders do not have a sex-related mental health disorder. Those offenders are not likely to need such invasive control as that offered by chemical castration.
Since California’s enactment, chemical castration has been challenged as a cruel and unusual punishment; but as of 2017, chemical castration has not been declared unconstitutional.
See also Castration, Surgical ; Sex Offender Laws
Cal. Pen. Code 645
Fla. Stat. Ann. 794.0235
Ga. Code Ann. 42–9-44.2 (repealed 2006)
Iowa Code Ann. 903B.10
La. Rev. Stat. Ann 15:538
Mont. Code Ann. 45–5-512
Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. 144.625 (repealed 2011)
Saleh, Fabian M. and Laurie Guidry. “Psychosocial and Biological Treatment Considerations for the Paraphilic and Nonparaphilic Sex Offender.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, v.31 (2003).
Stinneford, John F. “Incapacitation Through Maiming: Chemical Castration, the Eighth Amendment, and the Denial of Human Dignity.” University of St. Thomas Law Journal, v.3 (2005–2006).
Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. 501.061
Wis. Stat. Ann. 302.11