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Is Castration Extreme? Perhaps, but Existing Laws Are Far Too Lenient

April 27, 1986|PETE SCHABARUM | Pete Schabarum is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Outraged by the rape of a 10-year-old girl by a man with a history of mental illness and a record of prior rape, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently ordered a study of the medical, legal and moral issues involved in the use of castration as a punishment for men guilty of multiple sex crimes.

The press caught the scent of a controversial issue in the air and the proposal was given full media coverage. Numerous telephone calls and letters have reached my office since that time from men and women throughout the county overwhelmingly in favor of such a penalty. People are upset about the crime of rape; some are hostile toward rapists. They are angry that women are not better protected against this crime.

Unfortunately, had I only launched a public discussion about the crime of rape, the press would have waited for something more newsworthy and exciting to publicize.

Castration is an extreme measure. So is the death penalty. Many Americans oppose both measures as cruel and unusual punishment. But before we spare violent criminals from these penalties, perhaps because of so-called social enlightenment--for whatever reason--let us pause to remember the trauma and psychological damage a rape victim suffers. We might also reflect on the enormity of taking a life, as well as the grief suffered by the family and friends of a victim.

While I initiated the discussion about castrating rapists, I confess that my primary purpose in bringing up the subject was to encourage the public to think about the broader topic of crime and punishment.

Each of us wants to live in a neighborhood where we can leave home free from worry about whether our possessions will be there when we return. Each of us wants to live in a place where we can go for a walk or where our children can play outside without fear that some deranged person will attack them. But people are being robbed, assaulted, raped and killed daily. And we docilely accept the fact that we do not live in Utopia and that some very bad people are free to roam the streets of our communities.

Now that I've gotten everybody's attention, I want to confront the public with the reality that our criminal-justice system is not working satisfactorily. Our courts are too lenient. They do not mete out swift justice. And current penalties for unlawful acts do little to deter criminals from further crime. A new government study showed that half of the convicted murderers released from state prisons in 1983 served less than four years in prison for their crimes.

If something is wrong with the criminal justice system, we must collectively wrestle with our attitudes on fundamental questions as to how it should be changed. Do we support the death penalty? Do we want rapists castrated? Would we prefer life imprisonment to these extreme measures? How do we feel when persons sentenced to life imprisonment for heinous crimes are given parole? Or should we tattoo a large red "R," similar to the badge worn by adulterers in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," on the forehead of rapists as a public warning?

Nearly 500 convicted murderers are eligible for parole from California prisons during the next three years. The list includes Kenneth Bianchi, the "Hillside Strangler"; Juan Corona, the mass mass murderer of farm workers; Gregory Ulas Powell, the "Onion Field" killer; Peter Ng, of the San Francisco "Golden Dragon Massacre"; Joseph Remiro of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Charles Manson cohorts Charles "Tex" Watson, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. These persons should not be allowed to leave prison. Nevertheless, some may be released, along with other murderers eligible for parole. Some will murder again.

Call me a Cro-Magnon man if you like, but I dislike people who burglarize homes; I resent drug dealers; I detest people who use knives and guns as weapons to steal and kill; I have no sympathy for rapists. And I support extreme punishment for those who choose to engage in these activities.

If you share my frustration with our criminal justice system, if you are tired of violent criminals being paroled after brief stints in prison, join me in demanding that our legislators enact tougher laws that allow judges to deal harshly with criminals. And if you cannot support the death penalty for murderers, or castration for rapists, then at least help to ensure that violent criminals are locked away from society forever.

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