MONTGOMERY — Court-ordered chemical castration of child molesters as a condition of their parole will soon be required in Alabama, but exactly how the treatments will be administered is still being determined.
The law, signed by Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday, goes into effect in September. It requires the Alabama Department of Public Health to administer the treatment.
“We’re still reviewing (the law) to understand exactly how our role will work,” Public Health Officer Scott Harris said this week. “We’ve done some work looking at other states, trying to get an idea of how it works.”
House Bill 379, sponsored by Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, requires that anyone who committed a sex offense against a child under 13 receive prior to parole medication, “including, but not limited to, medroxyprogesterone acetate treatment or its chemical equivalent, that, among other things, reduces, inhibits, or blocks the production of testosterone, hormones, or other chemicals in a person's body.”
The bill references male and female offenders receiving treatment. It would begin one month prior to release, and continue “until the court determines the treatment is no longer necessary."
Hurst has carried sex offender castration legislation for several years. He said it's been a priority for him since entering the Legislature. His original legislation involved surgical castration.
“I don’t tease and I don’t joke about this, these kids need some help out there,” Hurst said. “If someone is going to mark these kids for life, they need to be marked for life. That’s why I looked at surgical castration, and my own opinion is that if they decide to do that to a small child they deserve to die.”
It's unclear how many potential parolees could seek treatment. The Alabama Department of Corrections(ADOC) and the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole didn't have numbers on offenders who would qualify.
"I know that ever since I have been on the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I have never approved parole for anyone convicted of such a crime," said Lyn Head, chair of the board and a member since 2016.
The offender is to pay for the cost of treatment, but fees will be waived if he is deemed indigent. A person can’t be denied parole because he can’t pay for chemical castration.
A fiscal note on the bill does not say how much treatment costs.
Harris said his preliminary understanding is that the injections are weekly. The medication most states use is about $65 a dose.
Hurst said an offender did not have to take the medication if they remained in prison to serve their sentence.
“If you stay to serve the duration of your time, you don’t have to take anything,” Hurst said. “But if you do prove to be indigent, you have to come back periodically to prove that you are still indigent. Also, when people are on parole they can start a job, which would then help them pay for the medication.”
Harris said said offenders will likely go to local departments of health for the injections.
“But we haven’t had any discussions to understand what the logistics will be," he said. "We just don’t know yet.”
Asked about offenders being at health departments when children are there receiving other services, Hurst said that's going to be addressed.
"We've already got some meetings scheduled for how we need to pursue it and what legal issues may occur," Hurst said.
Sexual offenses against children under 13 that chemical castration now applies to include rape, sexual misconduct, indecent exposure, promoting prostitution, unlawful imprisonment and human trafficking.
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.
Hurst's bill was approved 71-to-16 in the Alabama House and 27-to-0 in the Senate.
Those who voted against the bill in the House echoed a lot of the same concerns they had about the anti-abortion law passed in May, saying it inhibited a person’s rights and bodily autonomy.
“I voted 'no' on it for the same reason that I voted 'no' on the abortion," Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said. "It’s not a matter of whether you support or are against it in principle, it’s about being able to legislate what happens to people’s bodies. There are also just more important issues that we should have dealt with during that session.”
Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said she voted "no" because of the possibility that the person Later may be proven to be innocent by new DNA testing that has been used in some recent criminal cases.
“They go in and find someone who is supposedly guilty and castrate that person, then you determine through DNA that that is the wrong person, look at what you would have put that person through and they were innocent the whole time,” Moore said. “It’s basically like the abortion bill, you are taking away an individual's right.”
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, was also concerned about the legal aspect of law. He is worried that it could be in violation of a person’s constitutional rights.
“There was also some discussion about the chemicals used, and whether or not it was actually effective,” England said. “So out of caution I voted 'no.' I definitely don’t want to create legal challenges. I didn’t want to run afoul of the constitution.”
Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said he thinks the law in unconstitutional.
"But the challenge wouldn’t occur until a judge actually orders chemical castration,” Marshall said. “If that came to our attention, we’d probably be involved. But there is not an immediate challenge on the path to law."
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 their bills in 2006 and 2001, respectively.
Texas also has a law that authorizes surgical castration, according to NCSL.
Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, was the only Republican to vote against the bill. He could not be reached for comment.
The bill also says that the medication can be changed and manipulated if it is proving to be ineffective.
Hurst said that he is committed to seeing this treatment work. He wants to create a task force or commission that would track the effects the medication has on offenders.
“I want to make sure it works, so we want to try to figure out some way to track each one of these people and look at how it works on them, and look at blood tests and ... decide what kind of medication works on who,” he said. “I want this to be successful because I want to save some of those kids. That’s all it is, that’s my objective.”