When people think about Alabama and what it's famous for, of peanuts, college football and Lynard Skynard come to mind. Many would like to think that it would welcome progressiveism to overcome its terrible history of Jim Crow laws. However, recent legislative actions in the state have proven that no matter how much good comes out of the actions of a person or state, it only takes one act of ignorance to mar an image that was at least tolerable and set a state back 50 years but leave it to states like Alabama to prove just how ass backwards, ignorant and inherently bigoted it really is. Not only did Alabama have us looking sideways when they passed the most restrictive abortion ban ever last month, not even making exceptions for women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, but leave it to them to out do themselves this time with a bill that supports chemical castration of its sex offenders convicted of molesting a child younger than 13, an effort currently being enforced in eight other states. Despite sex offender recidivism being extremely low the first 5 years after release, chemical castration is often seen as an easier alternative to life imprisonment or the death penalty because it allows the release of sex offenders while reducing or eliminating the chance that they re-offend.
Alabama House Bill 373 was introduced by Alabama State Representative Steve Hurst and according to him he introduced it because his only goal was to "protect our children". Therefore, by requiring those convicted of molesting a child under the age of 13 to be chemically castrated as a condition of their parole, it will decrease their sexual desires and their desire to re-offend. However, despite his good intentions, Representative Hurst's idea to introduce such a bill is flawed in more ways than one (which I will get into in just a sec). Also, those seeking parole are required and expected to pay for the monthly treatments themselves! Say what? How crazy is it to require people to do something but not pay for it yourself? Oh, wait. I forgot. Alabama CAN'T pay for the treatments because it is not only broke but it is one of the poorest states in the south and can't afford to pay for the treatments even if they wanted to. The bill has passed both houses and now awaits Alabama Governor Kay Ivey's signature and considering that she is a woman and a mother, it is likely to be passed into law. We all know that being both a woman and a mother can either be a great combination or a deadly combination as mothers can be great protectors of our children but we can also be dramatic and overly sensitive which causes us to act without all the facts and out of fear and this can sometimes be more explosive that the initial issue. Therefore, I see this as a shit storm waiting to happen as there are too many issues with passing such as law and those flaws I mentioned earlier? Here they are, in no particular order:
- False convictions happen. This is a concept that proponents of the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality, the death penalty and surgical and chemical castration seem to forget. Whether society wants to admit it or not, innocent people do plead guilty as plea bargains offer incentives to plead guilty and people have falsely confessed due to police pressure or a fragile mind, children can be coerced to lie, perjured evidence of the alleged victims and their accomplices can be presented, a frame up by the guilty party can happen and prejudice or bias against the class of people in which the defendant belongs can happen. One study estimated that up to 10,000 people may be wrongfully convicted of serious crimes each year. A 2014 study estimated that 4.1% of inmates awaiting execution on death row in the United States are innocent, and that at least 340 innocent people may have been executed since 1973. Therefore, there are just too many variables that can cause false convictions and cause people to be castrated that should not be.
- In what year are we? 1599? 1932? Chemical castration is a draconian punishment that is not rooted in common sense at all but ignorance and fear. Period.
- Risk of noncompliance. Those subjected to this law will be required to pay for the treatment themselves so my question to Alabama lawmakers is "WITH WHAT MONEY?" Individuals with criminal records more than likely will have financial obligations such as fines, fees, restitution and child support as a once released and it has been proven that individuals with criminal records face great difficulty finding employment. So imagine the level of difficulty a sex offender has in finding employment which brings me back to my question. Where are they supposed to get the money to not only pay for their fines, fees, restitution and possibly child support but now the monthly pills or shots needed for the chemical castration treatment? So I'd would think that, and I'm just trying to use a little deductive reasoning and some common sense here (something that Alabama clearly does not do when making laws) that if one can't find a job and can't pay for their treatment, they won't get the treatment. If they don't pay they will be sent back to prison you say? How so? Because I'm sure that once they decide to not comply with the treatments, they will have already decided to not register and to abscond. Therefore, these people you claim are so dangerous to our children are now in the wind and can't be located all because YOU didn't pay for treatments that YOU require them to have.
- The potential for error is too high. Again, too many variables are in place for chemically castrating paroled sex offenders and referencing #1, the frequency of innocent people being castrated is a possibility. I have worked in the mental health field for years and too often I work with developmentally and intellectually disabled adults and almost every male has been convicted of a sex offense. Does this mean that intellectually disabled adults are more prone to abuse children? I think not but what I do think is that these men and women are easy prey and targets and if they reside in a home with a child molester, more often than not, they end up being framed for the action and don't know any different when they plead guilty for something they have not done and the fact that they are often less competent and knowledgeable about the legal system further proves that they are taken advantage of in more ways than one. Another example is a 16 year old boy who has had consensual sex with his 13 year old girlfriend but because she got caught or her parents didn't approve of him being a person of color, molestation and rape is cried. What about a male who may be over 18 who had consensual sex with a girl who was 18 (at least that is what she looked like and what she told him) but is younger? Again, the potential to erroneously castrate people who are not actually child molesters is entirely too high.
- Not equally applied. This law discriminately singles out sex offenders who supposedly molested children yet admitted and known rapists, thieves and murderers do not have such horrible conditions of parole. Therefore, making the last statement of the article "the punishment should fit the crime" one that is not applied equally across the board. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, sex offender recidivism during the first five years after release from prison ranges from less than 3 percent for the lowest-risk offenders to 22 percent for those at highest risk while 33% of violent offenders commit another violent offense within five years and 51 percent of drug offenders break another drug law after their release. So if researchers have found that the longer a sex offender goes without re-offending, the less likely they are to offend and that the chance of a sex offender committing a new sex crime after 15 years is only 2% (which is roughly the same rate as for people convicted of other crimes, who then go out and commit a sex crime) and if punishments truly should fit the crime, then why is it again that only sex offenders are being targeted? It's plain and simple and it has nothing to do with protecting children but has everything to do with panic, fear, ignorance and the trend to increase criminalization, control and shaming.
- Violation of civil and constitutional rights. Since I mentioned it in #4, let me dig deeper on the subject of the violating of one's civil and constitutional rights. Civil and constitutional rights are in place for a reason and because you decided today that you didn't like the weather gives you no more right to violate one's civil and constitutional rights than it does when you don't like the way another has offended, sinned or disgusted you. Like the abortion bans, that are in clear violation of women's civil and constitutional rights, to have a child molester chemically castrated is not only rooted out of ignorance, but fear and personal, moral and/or religious beliefs which NO laws made for a whole should be based on the personal beliefs, morals or religion of a few! Therefore, this attack against those convicted of child molestation charges are not only prejudicial but violates more than one civil and constitutional right including their right to privacy and the right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment so I definitely see more lawsuits in Alabama's future; lawsuits that it is apparent that they cannot afford. Oh and about that "the crime should fit the punishment" bit? Hey Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, California and other states with surgical and chemical castration laws....prison IS the punishment and if they were that much of a threat why not just keep them incarcerated? Why punish people by sending them to prison only to continue to punish them once released?
- What's good for the goose. When we fail to stand up against corrupt politicians and co-sign unjust laws that blatantly target and discriminate against another group, we fail to realize that we are only setting up our own demise as well because we will have opened the door for them to make laws that will target us next so don't get too comfortable in seeing another being unjustly mistreated because the same way injustice knocked on their door, it WILL come-a-knocking at yours and the way things are going, with the abortion ban and now this, that just may be sooner than later. So get ready to have more of your civil liberties and freedoms infringed upon because I'd be willing to bet money on it that more "morality" laws are sure to come simply because some political tightwad found what you do to be vile and disgusting (i.e. anal and oral sex, adultery, threesomes, S&M, golden showers) and whatever else tickles your taboo fancy. There are still states can arrest and convict consenting adults for sodomy and adultery! People who are sent to prison should be sent there to be rehabilitated, reformed and released NOT out of revenge because you didn't agree with what they did or you found their act to be vile and disgusting. So remember: what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Well in this case, what's bad for one sinner can easily become bad for another. How? Because we did not stand up against laws that unjustly targeted others simply because we also have inherent biases about people who are convicted of sex offenses. Injustice is injustice! Plain and simple. It is not just injustice when it's only against people who only look like us, worship like us and live like us! "Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere". Remember that quote? Well I say "injustice to one is a threat to all"!
- Strange Fruit: Repeating a terrible history. Since I'm talking about making laws based on personal and moral beliefs, I can remember a time when white people believed it was disgusting for the races to mix and therefore took it upon themselves to make laws prohibiting interracial marriages. The klan thought that castrating black men was fitting punishment for having sex with a white woman. So again, if we are not careful and continue to support evil laws based on personal beliefs, we will end up having laws again that will forbid interracial marriages, will legalize slavery (well the 13th amendment proves that it is still legal), will outlaw alcohol, oral sex and adultery (some states still do arrest and convict people for having oral or anal sex and committing adultery), hide the mentally ill and deformed away in institutions, etc.
- Who does this bill REALLY protect? Again, Representative Hurst, may have had good intentions when introducing this bill but the truth of the matter this bill will NOT PROTECT children but will actually do the opposite. If this bill is really about protecting children then riddle me this Alabama legislators and supporters of this bill, "in a state that protects rapists more than it does incest and rape victims (who are often children), that has recently passed the most restrictive abortion ban ever (WITHOUT any exceptions for rape or incest mind you) that will sentence women who get abortions and their performing doctors to longer sentences than what convicted rapists get, separating these women FROM their children and to top it off, a state that still allows rapists to have parental and visitation rights of the children conceived with their rape or incest victims often subjecting these children to be alone in the presence of the same man who raped their mother, tell me again how much you are REALLY protecting the children? Because from what I see, it looks like Alabama not only supports rape and incest but supports making orphans out of the same children it claims to want to protect AND contributing to the molestation and rape of even more children who are now being allowed to be cared for and visited by "daddies" who have an obvious affinity to having sex with children who are probably the same age their mama was when she was raped or molested by him. So, again, here's where those pesky little things called common sense and deductive reasoning come in. If a man likes having sex with children, and could probably care less if they were related, and happened to get one pregnant, isn't it a strong likelihood that he would also find his own child desirable at that same age? C'mon Alabama. You aren't doing much to prove to the world that you do NOT support incest and rape. Get it together!
- Hidden agenda: the master plan. Just like the abortion ban, the passing of chemical castration laws are not due to ensure public safety, save unborn babies, to save the planet or whatever else crap far right politicians are feeding you. These laws are nothing more than the result of White patriarchal politics which are rooted in bigotry and the inherent fear of Black people, especially the men and therefore are being passed for two reasons only: to disable minorities and to feed the prison system for profit. Even though it has not been proven that they commit sexual assault at higher rates than other ethnic or racial groups, nearly one of every 100 Black men is on a sex offender registry, a rate double that of white men. Also, sentence disparities between black and white men show that Black men are disproportionately given 20% longer sentences than White men who complete the same crime. Domestic violence is more prevalent among ethnic groups with Blacks leading the charge, and since women has become the fastest growing prison population, the number of women who are criminalized victims is higher and therefore adds to an even more dismantling of minorities. Black men and women are often sentenced to decades of serving time which leaves their children unattended, in the system or with relatives who are often older and unable to monitor and supervise them properly which often leads to the children coming in contact with the juvenile justice system at an early age so now you have entire families and whole communities locked up behind bars and with the men and the women serving such long sentences, it is guaranteed that when they are released, they will be beyond child bearing years thereby interrupting the procreation of more Black babies. While on the subject of killing black babies, just as the castration laws are not really protect children, these abortion laws are to target Black women and funnel even more of them into the system. How you ask? According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Women who obtain abortions are predominantly poor or low-income, in their 20s and unmarried; black women and Hispanic women continue to be disproportionately represented among abortion patients." The fact that over 60% of the women who get abortions in Alabama are Black compared to 35% of White women, further supports my theory that these laws are not about protecting children live or unborn but to target those most likely to be impacted by them....Black men and women and other people of color! Therefore, dismantling minorities through incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, broken families and unemployment results in them being unable to contribute to their households and play a role in social change, again supporting my theory of these laws having hidden agendas and ulterior motives than the what is being stated.
In closing, I'd like to note that I am a victim of molestation and rape and can sometimes have biased feelings towards those convicted of sex crimes but as a Christian first and a criminal justice activist who advocates for equality second, my PERSONAL feelings have no place in my activism because my PERSONAL feelings do not trump good old common sense and what I now know about oppression and mass incarceration as an adult. As a Christian, I believe that God is the only one who can judge us in the end and that is where judgement should lie. Therefore, regardless of what I went through as a child, I am now fully aware that all things are not what they seem in this thing called politics, that the criminal justice system is inherently biased and unjust to people of color, that politicians profit off of feeding this unjust system and that wrong is wrong no matter my personal biases.
Contributing Editor: Waleisah Wilson
Waleisah Wilson was born and raised in Columbus, GA. She attended several different elementary, middle and high schools due to being in foster care due to her mother being in active addiction. She was the first in her family (on both sides) to attend college and to graduate with both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Waleisah holds a Bachelor's degree in Sociology, a Master’s Degree in Human Services with a concentration in Social and Community Services, a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management, and a Graduate Certificate in Criminal Justice. She later plans to pursue her doctorate in Business Administration. Waleisah is the mother of a 15 year old.