- Cullman, Alabama

January 15, 2014

Mutilation or punishment?

The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Reports of sex offenders preying on children is a troubling issue for society.

Just thinking about an adult taking advantage of a child enrages most caring people. It’s not uncommon for the average person to call for harsh punishment for the offender, and few people disagree.

Nonetheless, Alabama state Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, is treading into dangerous territory with his bill to implement physical castration of offenders whose victims are under 12 years old. According to Hurst, the offender should serve prison time and not be released until undergoing castration.

Several states and countries already use chemical castration as a means to stop convicted sex offenders from repeating their crimes. However, chemical castration is not permanent.

Hurst’s proposal has concerns and flaws that can’t be ignored as the legislative session gets under way.

Punishment for sex offenders is already in place. By enacting a new law, lawmakers would essentially be saying that prison is not a form of punishment for this crime. In addition, forced physical castration contradicts the spirit of the United States.

While it can be argued that a sex offender takes away the rights of his victims, castration would be a form of mutilation endorsed by government. In Alabama, and all over the Deep South, cases have been overturned after long years of presumed guilt involving black citizens. Who is to say that government-ordered castration is not a return to the era when Alabama lawmakers supported sterilization of poor women, most of whom were black. Will the Hurst bill become just another perceived method of discrimination based on race as much as criminal action?

And what will be the compensation for someone who is convicted of a sex offense crime but years later is exonerated? That person will be permanently scarred by the heavy hand of government.

Thinking about the means to reduce and eliminate sex offense crimes is certainly worth exploring at the government level. Nevertheless, proposals that explore or mandate desecration of the body leaves room for errors that cannot be reversed.

Alabama’s reputation from the sterilization programs of the last century remains horrifying. This state should not even consider anything close to the atrocities of the past.