Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama just signed a so-called chemical castration measure into law, her office announced last Monday. This move leaves the state poised to set new parole conditions for certain sex offenders.

Supporters of the chemical castration law argue that it will increase public safety and reduce the risk of convicted sex offenders committing crimes similar to the ones they committed once they are released from prison. However, critics of the law, which takes effect in September, think that it may prove to be unconstitutional.

What is chemical castration?

Chemical castration involves the use of a drug to reduce testosterone levels, thereby affecting the sex drive. American doctors have been using the drug medroxyprogesterone acetate to treat sex offenders for well over 50 years, and the same protocol is expected to be followed in Alabama.

What does Alabama require?

The law, titled HB 379, will require people who were convicted of certain sex offenses, including but not limited to sodomy, rape, and incest, involving victims who are younger than 13 to receive chemical castration as one of the terms of their parole.

The Alabama Department of Public Health will oversee the procedure, which will be paid for by the parolees, and the convicted sex offenders will “continue receiving treatment until the court determines the treatment is no longer necessary.” For indigent people who cannot afford the procedure, there is a limited exception in the law.

Those who intentionally end the treatment will have committed a felony under the law. It is not immediately clear how many will be affected by the Alabama Chemical Castration law.

Does it work?

In a 2005 study of medical literature in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, researchers found that chemical castration “reduced testosterone levels and affected sexual deviance.” However, they added a note of caution, stating, “These studies used self-report to measure decreases in deviant sexual drive, fantasies and behavior— a methodology with questionable reliability

Additionally, a 2013 report in the Journal of Korean Medical Science stated that chemical castration “results in very low levels of recidivism despite the strong psychological factors that contribute to sexual offending.”

To further prove this point, researchers in the United States and abroad also found substantially lower recidivism levels among people who had surgical castration procedures, as opposed to people who were released from custody without any such treatments.

Ethical Concerns

Some critics of the law argue that the chemical castration law improperly coerces inmates, forcing them to choose between taking the drug or staying in prison. Medical ethicists and doctors have also expressed concerns regarding side effects and worry whether or not prisoners will receive enough information to make clear, informed decisions.