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Louisiana becomes first state to allow surgical castration as punishment for child molesters

Vehicles enter at the main security gate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary — the Angola Prison, the largest high-security prison in the country in Angola, La., Aug. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File)
Vehicles enter at the main security gate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary — the Angola Prison, the largest high-security prison in the country in Angola, La., Aug. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana has become the first state where judges can order offenders guilty of certain sex crimes against children to undergo surgical castration under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry on Tuesday.

While the punishment of surgical castration is used in other countries that are known for harsher criminal sanctions — including the Czech Republic and Nigeria — it will be new in the U.S. The governor’s office confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that Landry had signed the bill earlier in the week.

Proponents of the Louisiana law, which takes effect Aug. 1, hope the new possible punishment will deter people from committing sex crimes against children. Opponents argue that it is “cruel and unusual” punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They say it is sure to face legal challenges.

The legislation gives Louisiana judges the option to sentence someone to surgical castration after the person has been convicted of certain aggravated sex crimes — including rape, incest and molestation — against a child under 13. The punishment is not automatic and would be by individual cases and at the discretion of the judge.

Louisiana has 2,224 people in prison for such crimes. The law can be applied only to those who have convicted a crime on or after Aug. 1 of this year.

handful of states, including Louisiana, California, Florida and Texas, have laws allowing for chemical castration for those guilty of certain sex crimes. In some of those states, offenders can opt for the surgical procedure if they prefer. But no other state allows judges to impose surgical castration outright, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Louisiana, which for 16 years has allowed judges to order chemical castration of people convicted of certain sex crimes against children, that punishment is rarely issued. Chemical castration uses medications that block testosterone production to decrease sex drive. Surgical castration is a much more invasive procedure that involves the removal of both testicles or ovaries.

An offender who “fails to appear or refuses to undergo” surgical castration after a judge orders the procedure could be hit with a “failure to comply” charge and face an additional three to five years in prison, based on the bill’s language.

The bill received overwhelming approval in both of the GOP-dominated chambers. State Sen. Regina Barrow, a Democrat, authored the legislation, but votes against it mainly came from Democrats.

“We are talking about babies who are being violated by somebody,” Barrow said during an April committee meeting. “That is inexcusable.”

Proponents of the measure argue that the punishment is just for horrific crimes against children. Critics argue that the state should focus on the rehabilitation of those guilty of such crimes in an effort to lower recidivism rates.

Others wonder if more states may look at adopting a similar law to Louisiana’s and question the constitutionality of such measures. The U.S. has decided that retributive punishment — “an eye for an eye” — is cruel and unusual, said Katrina Sifferd, a philosophy professor at Elmhurst University.

“We don’t rape rapists,” she said. “We don’t cut off the hands of thieves.”

The legislation is one of several controversial bills signed by Landry this week, including a measure allowing law enforcement to jail people who enter the U.S. illegally, similar to a Texas law and others facing legal challenges.

Republican states and Democratic President Joe Biden have been fighting over U.S.-Mexico border security. If the Supreme Court upholds the Texas law, Louisiana’s law will expand enforcement of immigration law to local, not just federal, authorities. It also creates the crime of “illegal entry or reentry” into the state and establishes punishments that include prison time and thousands of dollars in fines.