Louisiana Passes Surgical Castration Bill for Child Sex Offenders

When State Representative Delisha Boyd of Louisiana read news reports in early May that a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl was already a registered sex offender who had previously assaulted a 5-year-old, she said she couldn’t help but think about her own family: Her mother carried trauma for much of her life after being raped by a family acquaintance at age 15.

So Ms. Boyd called her friend, and a fellow Democrat, State Senator Regina Barrow of Baton Rouge. They vowed to push for what seemed like a long-shot of a bill, one that would allow judges to order surgical castration of child sex offenders.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to push it — we have to do something for these kids,’” said Ms. Boyd, who represents New Orleans.

Within two weeks, Ms. Boyd and Ms. Barrow persuaded their respective chambers, both dominated by Republicans, to approve final passage of the bill on Monday, putting the state on track to become the first to codify such a procedure.

While Louisiana and a handful of other states, including California, Texas and Florida, have long allowed courts to order chemical castration, surgical castration — far more intrusive — propels Louisiana to the forefront of a conversation over a form of punishment that has been more associated with countries, like Pakistan and Nigeria, with much harsher criminal sanctions.

The bill would permit judges to order people who have finished serving time for sex crimes against children under 13 to undergo surgical castration within a week of their release from prison. If the prisoner refuses, then an additional prison term of three to five years could be tacked on.

The bill allows for the procedure to be ordered for either men or women, through the removal of testes or ovaries, based on the recommendation of a court-appointed medical expert.

It now awaits the signature of Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican who took office in January vowing to take a tough-on-crime approach. If adopted, it would apply to those convicted of crimes that occurred after Aug. 1.

“We are talking about babies who are being violated by somebody,” Ms. Barrow told lawmakers during an April committee meeting. “That is inexcusable.”

In some ways, the bill came as a surprise because surgical castration has not been at the forefront of anyone’s legislative wish list anywhere in the country.

Indeed, chemical castration has not been a major issue in recent years, either; the last state to enact such a law was Alabama, in 2019, and Louisiana has had only one case in the last decade, according to Ms. Boyd.

There is scant research to determine the efficacy of such laws.

In a 2005 paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, researchers who reviewed the medical literature found that chemical castration “reduced testosterone levels and affected sexual deviance.” But they cautioned that because of its methodology the findings were of “questionable reliability.”

But Louisiana’s law is in another category altogether, and there is no evidence to suggest it would help reduce sex crimes against children, said Emily Horowitz, a sociology professor at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, and the author of “From Rage to Reason: Why We Need Sex Crime Laws Based on Facts, Not Fear.”

“This new law is solely vengeance and lacks any evidence of effectiveness and is aimed at a despised and powerless population that already is subject to dozens of draconian post-conviction collateral consequences,” she said. “There is virtually no evidence that increasing punishments will have any impact on sexual recidivism.”

National groups focused on prisoners’ rights and sex crimes questioned whether doctors would violate their Hippocratic oath, based on the principle of “do no harm,” if they were to perform such court-ordered procedures.

“The idea that, in the name of survivors, that we would be mutilating people’s bodies is really an affront to people who have survived sexual violence,” said Amber Vlangas, executive director of the Restorative Action Alliance.

Some groups said that they anticipated lawsuits arguing that the legislation was unconstitutional, based on the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

“I can assure you we would be standing ready,” said Sandy Rozek, a spokeswoman for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws. “All we need would be an attorney in Louisiana to partner with us.”

Some legislators, meanwhile, expressed concerns about Louisiana’s record of wrongful convictions and the prospect of racial bias.

“Who does this affect most?” Representative Edmond Jordan, a Baton Rouge Democrat who is Black, said during a legislative hearing. “I know it’s race neutral. I know we say it can apply to anybody, but we all know who it affects.”

Ms. Boyd also sponsored a bill this year that would require a vasectomy procedure for child sex offenders. That measure passed the House but did not get out of a Senate committee.

She said the surgical castration bill would empower female victims of sexual abuse. And she stressed that she hoped it would become a deterrent. In all cases, she said, prisoners could opt to remain longer in prison as an alternative.

“No one is going to strap you down to a gurney and make you do it,” Ms. Boyd said.

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