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May 29, 2007

Isn't chemical castration worth trying if it works?

Thanks to Corrections Sentencing, I see that folks in Oregon are talking about making greater use of chemical castration for certain high-risk sex offenders.  Here are highlights from this AP story:

The state is close to approving a Corrections Department budget that includes money to expand the state's chemical castration program.  If passed, the state would pay for high-risk sex offenders to receive twice-monthly shots of Depo-Provera, a testosterone-reducing drug.

Oregon has had a chemical castration law since 1999.  But use of the drug has been spotty because of a lack of a money and opposition from doctors and counselors. Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, the chief sponsor of the 1999 bill, is leading the effort to add $150,000 to the program, saying it's been effective when used.

Schrader said he wants the injections to be required as a condition of post-prison supervision for about 20 offenders per month - up from the current five per month - in a pilot program that would include Multnomah County and two other counties that have not been determined.  "Since it has been pretty darn successful, we want to see if there's a larger population we can use it on to keep people safe when these guys get out of jail," he said....

Depo-Provera, originally developed as a contraceptive for women, creates sexual apathy in men by reducing the level of testosterone.  European countries have used the drug since the 1960s to treat sex offenders.  It's less popular in the U.S., and Oregon is one of fewer than 10 states reported to have chemical castration laws.

The AP article is does not report on any research that chemical castration is as effective as Senator Schrader asserts.  But, if there is decent evidence that this form of technocorrections is effective on some high-risk offender populations, I like the idea a lot more than over-broad civil commitment and residency restriction regimes.

Can anyone report (ideally with cites/links) on any research about the efficacy of chemical castration?  If it works, is there any reason not to consider expanding its use for certain high-risk offender populations?

May 29, 2007 at 05:39 PM | Permalink


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» Thoughts on chemical castration from a public defender
Prof. Berman points to this story out of Oregon (via Corrections Sentencing) which says that the state is considering employing chemical castration to prevent high-risk offenders from re-offending. The state is close to approving a Correc... [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2007 10:19:07 PM


Yes: here

No: here

"Since it has been pretty darn successful..." implies those they claimed were going to offend were actually going to. Were they?

I really, really hope this could be a solution, but there is some history.

Posted by: George | May 29, 2007 7:55:36 PM

Of course, we could just kill them all. That would solve the repeat-offender problem, right?

It's all about line-drawing.

Posted by: Anon | May 29, 2007 8:49:13 PM

While some offenders are more prone to re-offending, not all offenders will re-offend (even those that are "high risk"). Taking such drastic measures on the off-chance that one (or more - but we won't know who exactly) "might" re-offend doesn't sit well with me.

Posted by: Gideon | May 29, 2007 9:01:49 PM

Doug: That's the problem, there's not much data about it. Since NIH rarely gives large grants for this type of research, we have very few studies. One thing to keep in mind: these agents require that the offender continue to take them. While we can measure testosterone levels to ensure compliance, few programs measure testosterone frequently enough to really ensure compliance. Plus, these agents are associated with substantial side-effects that often includes depression and anxiety -- not really what you want a desperate sex offender to endure if you're interested in reducing recidivism. Probably the leading researcher in this area is Fred Berlin from Hopkins, but this was also they same doctor who testified that Jeffery Dalhmer suffered from a "love sickness".

BTW: Depro is not used much anymore, Lupron is the agent of choice for this stuff.

Posted by: Steve | May 29, 2007 10:33:20 PM

Also, the cite that George references to cites a lot of studies. But look closely: most of those studies: (1) are dated; (2) are not reports of original research. (Not saying anything bad about George here)

Posted by: Steve | May 29, 2007 10:36:14 PM

I could be persuaded otherwise, but I really see what's wrong with chemical castration. Between prison/civil confinement (see Hendricks) and chemical castration, the former interferes with liberty a whole lot more. I think that I'd draw the line on *actual* castration -- I don't think the state should be the business of removing part of one's body. But the state is already in the business of interfering with one's body.

Is there going to be a line drawing problem? Sure. I just don't think this falls on the wrong side of the line. The real puzzle, of course, is whether the state will be able to determine which offenders they should do this to, to the extent they don't make chemical castration a requirement for *all* "sex" offenders.

Posted by: Aaron | May 30, 2007 11:00:50 AM

There might be less resistance to it if they called it something else. Juliet notwithstanding, names do matter.

If Steve is correct on the state of the research, more needs to be done before we use this on a large scale.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 30, 2007 6:17:54 PM

A twice a week injection of a drug proven safe and effective certainly has the virtue compared to physical castration or the death penalty of not being permanent. If a sentence is vacated, so can the chemical castration regime.

If it has even a modest effect to reduce recidivism while on parole (and many states now have lifetime supervision on a parole basis) this is a good thing and might encourage parole releases and in turn reduce dramatically sex offender punishment costs.

Posted by: ohwilleke | May 30, 2007 7:21:01 PM

Most reputable studies show that less than 15 percent of sex offenders reoffend, although there is a certainly a core group of violent offenders that are more likely to reoffend than others. That alone should make us hesitant to use chemical castration (a severe form of punishment even if it does fall short of prison/civil commitment) on all but the most serious offenders.

More importantly, however, is that it doesn't work. The adage that rape is not about sex is somewhat outdated, but not entirely incorrect. If rape were about an offender's sexual impulses, why would rapists use bottles and broomhandles? (See Heidl gang-rape case in Orange County.) Why would most rape statutes cover penetration with other objects? Why would rapists who had been castrated, chemically or otherwise, continue to rape or even kill? (See Klaus Grabowski, chemically-castrated German rapist who then strangled and killed a 7-year-old girl).

For most offenders, changing their distorted thinking about sex and violence is not accomplished by merely deadening their natural sexual impulses. And removing the ability to develop and satisfy healthy sexual and emotional impulses may force offenders to behave in other ways which may be worse for society - consider Klaus Grabowski, above, or the sexual abuse perpetrated by priests (who are subject to the social castration of chastity).

Castrating offenders is as cruel and useless as cutting off the hands of a thief.

Posted by: Pseudonymous | May 31, 2007 4:23:08 PM

Either this problem is a criminal problem or it's a medical problem. It can't be both. Prisons for the intentional act followed by perpetual civil commitments because it's an involuntary psychiatric problem... you can't have it both ways. If being unable to control sexual urges is an involuntary medical issue then I'm all for treating it medically. Loss of testosterone certainly causes a loss of libido and interest in sex. Do it for all sex offenders (at least the male ones). But don't put any of them in prison. Doing both is inconsistant.

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