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Molester Castration Measure Signed

Law: California becomes the first state to require that offenders get periodic injections to suppress sex drive.

September 18, 1996|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Perhaps starting another national trend, Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation Tuesday that will make California the first state in the country to require that convicted child molesters receive regular hormone injections intended to suppress their sex drive.

Chemical castration, as the practice was known when it zoomed through the state Legislature last month, has won surprisingly widespread and bipartisan support even though it has yet to be widely tested in the United States. The bill, first championed by conservative Republicans, passed the state Assembly 51 to 8 and the Democrat-controlled state Senate 25 to 1.

When it takes effect Jan. 1, twice-convicted child molesters will be forced to get weekly injections of a synthetic female hormone called Depo-Provera upon their release from prison. The injections, which can also be ordered after a first offense at the judge's discretion, will continue until state authorities determine they are no longer necessary.

"We have now set the stage for America--and we hope you are listening America," Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena), the bill's author, said at a signing ceremony Tuesday in Van Nuys. "We can do this all over the country. This is going to have the biggest impact on this horrible, horrible crime of any legislation ever seen."

Already, the California legislation has received national media attention, prompting at least half a dozen states to prepare similar legislation.

But the rush of enthusiasm has also been tempered by critics who say they are not sure that it will work. A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that the group is considering a legal challenge to the legislation because it is an unproven remedy for child molestation and a violation of civil rights.

"There is no evidence, absolutely no evidence, that chemical castration will alleviate the problem," said Ann Bradley, spokeswoman for the ACLU in Los Angeles. "And there is a real constitutional problem when you force people into a program that could have dire, dire health consequences. . . . We see this as a violation of prisoners' civil liberties."

State authorities acknowledge a range of side effects from Depo-Provera including headaches, breast enlargement, weight gain, blood disorders and strokes. They also said there has been little experience in using the drug to treat child molesters in the United States.

But proponents cite studies in Canada and Europe where a repeat offender rate of more than 80% was purportedly reduced to less than 4% among criminals treated with Depo-Provera.

"I would have to say to the ACLU that there is no right to molest a child," the governor responded at a news conference.

"We do not pretend that any law is a panacea," Wilson said earlier at the bill-signing ceremony. "This is one more valuable tool for law enforcement. But as long as it protects one girl or one boy, then keeping it on the books is worth enduring all of the criticism the opponents can muster."

State authorities say the rate of repeat offenses for convicted child molesters in California is at least 50%. But the drug treatment solution is controversial, in part, because medical authorities differ on whether the behavior is the result of an aggressive sex drive or the acting out of some other psychiatric trouble.

At Atascadero State Hospital, Dr. Mark D. Daigle said he has seen success from his work over the last 10 years with about 20 convicted child molesters who took the drug voluntarily.

Daigle, the director of forensic psychiatric services at the hospital, said Depo-Provera did inhibit the sex drive in his patients. But he has not tracked their status when they were released from prison and taken off the drug. He also said it is difficult to tell how successful the mandatory injection program might be.

"Most people who take it have their sex drives reduced," Daigle said. "That is going to reduce the number of re-offenders. It's not going to reduce it for everybody."

Authorities said there are about 16,000 convicted child molesters in California prisons, and about 200 are released from custody each week.

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