Surgical castration is approved by Louisiana lawmakers as a possible punishment for child molesters

Baton Rouge, La. — Judges in Louisiana could order surgical castration for people convicted of sex crimes against young children under legislation passed Monday, and if Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signs it into law, the state would apparently be the first with such a punishment.

The Republican Party-controlled legislature passed the bill that gives judges the ability to sentence someone to surgical castration after the person is convicted of certain serious sexual crimes — including rape, incest and molestation — against a child under 13.

A handful of states – inclusive AlabamaCalifornia, Florida and Texas – have passed laws allowing chemical castration. In some of those states, offenders can opt for the surgical procedure if they wish. However, the National Conference of State Legislatures said it is not aware of any states allowing judges to impose surgical castration.

For more than 16 years, Louisiana judges have allowed those convicted of such crimes to undergo chemical castration, though that punishment is rarely imposed. Chemical castration uses drugs that block testosterone production to reduce sex drive. Surgical castration is a much more invasive procedure.

“This is a consequence,” Republican Sen. Valarie Hodges said during a committee hearing on the bill in April. “It’s a step beyond just going to jail and getting out.”

The bill received overwhelming approval in both Republican Party-dominated chambers. The votes against the bill came mainly from Democrats. But a Democratic lawmaker, state Sen. Regina Barrow, wrote the legislation.

Currently, 2,224 people are incarcerated in Louisiana for sex crimes against children under the age of 13. If the bill becomes law, it could only apply to those convicted of a crime that occurred on or after August 1 of this year.

Bill’s author speaks out

Barrow has said it would be an additional step in punishing heinous crimes. She hopes the legislation will have a deterrent effect.

“We’re talking about babies being abused by someone,” Barrow said at an April committee meeting. “That’s inexcusable.”

Although castration is often associated with men, Barrow said the law could also be applied to women. She also emphasized that the imposition of the sentence depends on individual cases and at the discretion of the judges. The punishment is not automatic.

If an offender “fails to appear or refuses” to undergo surgical castration after a judge orders the procedure, he can be charged with “failure to comply” and face an additional prison sentence of three to five years, depending on the wording of the bill.

The legislation also states that a medical expert must “determine whether the perpetrator is an appropriate candidate” for the procedure before it is performed.

Louisiana’s current chemical castration law has been in effect since 2008, but officials said they could find only one or two cases of it being used from 2010 to 2019.

The bill and chemical castration bills have drawn widespread criticism, with opponents saying it is “cruel and unusual punishment” and questioning the effectiveness of the procedure. In addition, some Louisiana lawmakers have questioned whether the punishment was too harsh for someone who may have committed one offense.

“For me, one time is too many when I think about a child,” Barrow replied.

“Where do we draw the line?”

Late last month, Bruce Reilly of Voice of the Experienced told WWL-TV, an affiliate of CBS New Orleans, that there is already too much cruelty in Louisiana. He said: “There’s no intention of any mutilation of people’s bodies and that’s what this does, it mutilates people’s bodies.”

He went on to say, “Now we’re going to add someone’s testicles being cut off. … Where do we draw the line on our punishments?”

He pointed out that Louisiana has one of the highest wrongful conviction rates in the country and he fears what could happen to someone who is not actually guilty. “I believe there were 10 other people who may have been eligible for this sentence and they were acquitted,” he said.