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Chemical castration bill considered

March 11, 1998
By: Emily Goodin
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Marsha Richeson was raped the week before her twelfth birthday, but she still testified against chemical castration of sex offenders.

"We'll give drugs to these guys to say we're protecting society but we're not going to," said Richeson, 53, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

She testified against a bill that would make chemical castration a requirement for the parole of some sex offenders.

Chemical castration is a series of injections that decrease sexual drive. Richeson says a man can still impregnant a woman, but it can effect erections.

Richeson says that the drug treatment is only effective for sex offenders who fantasize or have compulsion - she says about one in four - and wouldn't work for offenders who act for other reasons.

"For every four you release, you've released three others that it isn't effective," she said.

The question is whether medroxyprogesterone - the drug used in chemical castration and specified in the bill - would be effective on sex offenders who act because of factors other than hormones. Other motives could include childhood experiences or mental illness.

But proponents argue that some safeguards are better than none.

"It's not a cure all and I don't claim it to be, but it's a tool," said Rep. Jim Howerton, R-Chilhowee, sponsor of the bill.

But Richeson says that if legislators think that these men are so dangerous, "then they shouldn't be let out."

Bruce Harry is a forensic psychiatrist who works at the Fulton State Hospital. He's worked with sex offenders for 16 years but questions the effectiveness of chemical castration.

"We all want a safer society but I'm not sure this will offer what our legislators hope," he said in an interview. "It's not a universal solution."

Harry says the drug specified in the bill has potential side effects - including hypertension, blood clots and weight gain.

California enacted chemical castration legislation in January 1997 but has yet to use it, according to Christian May of the California Department of Corrections.

The California law only applies to those convicted after the enactment date and the treatment is only mandatory for second-time offenders if the victim is under 13, May said.

"We're waiting for people to go through the system," she said.

Howerton's bill would allow chemical castration as a parole requirement for first-time sex offenders at the discretion of the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole.

It would be a mandatory parole requirement for second-time offenders if the victim is under the age of 13. It would also be a mandatory parole requirement for all third-time offenders.

The bill was heard before the House Criminal Law Committee on Wednesday night. The committee must still vote to send the bill to the House floor.

Similar legislation died last year.