Chemical 'Castration' for Sex Offenders

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Registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III pleaded not guilty last week to the rape and murder of 17-year-old Chelsea King. He is also a suspect in the murder of 14-year-old Amber Dubois who vanished a year ago.

Gardner was released from prison in 2006 after serving six years for molesting his 13-year-old neighbor. A court-appointed psychiatrist had recommended a longer sentence, stating Gardner showed no remorse, was a very poor candidate for treatment and would be a continuing threat to underage females.

The results of studies gauging the likelihood of sexual offenders re-offending vary widely-from as low as 5 percent to as high as 70 percent, or higher. By any measure, however, Gardner's story is not rare.

One of the reasons the public is at risk from repeat sexual offenders is because we are too narrowly focused on punishing them, rather than punishing them and then also sentencing them to enforced treatment for their disorders. Rather than accepting that they are ill, we treat them as though they are simply evil. This leads us to lock them up for years, and then forget that we have a vested interest in making sure their disorders are under control (as much as possible) after they are released.

One solution would be to sentence all sexual offenders who meet certain criteria not only to prison, but to lifetime probation and enforced, lifetime treatment with Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate). Depo-Provera is an injection that lowers testosterone. Sometimes called "chemical castration," it is a proven way to reduce deviant fantasies and behaviors. One study showed the potential of Depo-Provera to lower the risk of sex offenders committing new crimes by 500 percent. A review of the scientific literature found that sex offenders on Depo-Provera re-offended as infrequently as 1 percent of the time, while those not on it reoffended as often as 68 percent of the time.

If we are serious about protecting our children, I believe the criminal justice system and the mental health care system can join forces. Anyone convicted of particular sexual offenses would be sentenced not only to jail time, but also to a lifetime of enforced treatment with Depo-Provera and counseling. If an individual sentenced to the regimen failed to report for his injection, he would be jailed for an additional number of years for violating probation, then started on the injections again in prison and after release. Another failure to show up for dosing, another jail term. And so on and so on and so on. Eventually, offenders would get the picture.

This might seem like a harsh remedy. After all, many sexual offenders will never reoffend, even without treatment. But we just don't know which offenders are which. And I believe that society, therefore, has the right to treat all such individuals with existing medication known to reduce their sexual urges.

None of this punishment/treatment paradigm need be administered with hatred for the offender. Inherent in the idea of lifetime treatment is the notion that reoffending may well be outside the control of the individual-without some help.