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Chemical castration law’s impact could be minimal

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A law requiring chemical castration for some convicted child sex offenders will go into effect in September, but will not impact many of the worst child sex offenders.

Lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey approved this spring legislation that requires a convicted child sex offender whose victim was younger than 13 to start the chemical castration process before they are allowed to be paroled.

But current law already prevents parole for offenders convicted of a Class A or Class B felony sex offense against a child under the age of 12.

Under Alabama law, most sexual crimes against children 12 years of age or under are considered Class A or B felonies. Enticing a child to enter a home or vehicle for immoral purposes is a Class C felony.

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, was the sponsor of that bill and said that he knew about the prior law but still wanted to get the bill passed to apply to a small group of offenders.

“Anyone that messes with an infant child like that, has to be sick to start with,” Hurst said. “I feel that if they want to mark that child for life they ought to be marked for life.”

Hurst’s bill applies to parole, the early release of prisoners to complete their sentences at home. It does not apply to criminals who serve their complete sentences in prison.

Hurst has carried sex offender castration legislation for several years, including some that suggested surgical castration. Asked if simply denying parole to more sex offenders was a possibility, Hurst said he believes child molesters should be surgically castrated.

The castration law will apply to those convicted of A or B felonies whose victims were 12 years old or those who committed lesser offenses. It’s still unclear how many parolees that might effect. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, in response to an open records request from Alabama Daily News seeking information on the number of child sex offenders paroled, said it does not track parolees by crime.

Potential parolees can opt out of the castration by completing their sentences in prison.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairs the Senate Judicial Committee which debated the bill. He said he knew how few offenders the bill would end up affecting, which was one of the reasons the bill ended up being approved by the committee.

“It’s a small population and that’s how they got the agreement on the bill,” Ward told Alabama Daily News. “It’s still targeting a certain classification but it’s a small number of people.”

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said that in signing the legislation, Ivey recognized “that we must always protect children and ensure public safety.”

“Any change we can make to protect the children of Alabama is a positive step forward,” the statement said.

The new law also requires the Alabama Department of Public Health to administer the treatment but they also do not have an estimate of the number offenders that this law would effect.

The department told Alabama Daily News that that they are currently working with the Department of Corrections and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to identify a plan of action.

A parolee can stop treatment at anytime, but it will be a violation of parole and he or she will be returned to ADOC custody to finish their sentence. If the parolee intentionally stops treatment, they’ll be guilty of a Class C felony.

The law also stipulates that the offender has to pay for the cost of treatment, but fees will be waived if the offender is deemed indigent. A person can’t be denied parole because he can’t pay for chemical castration.

Public Health Officer Scott Harris previously said that in his preliminary understanding of the procedure is that the injections are weekly and the medication most states use is about $65 a dose.

California was the first state to pass in 1996 a chemical castration law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several others followed. Georgia and Oregon repealed theirs in 2006 and 2001, respectively.

Texas also has a law that authorizes surgical castration, according to NCSL.

Hurst’s bill was approved 71-16 in the Alabama House and 27-0 in the Senate.

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