Special Session Draws Heated Debate

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

Some Alabama lawmakers say violent sex offenders who prey on children should be forced to undergo surgical castration to ensure that they do not hurt another child.

In a bid to strengthen a House bill toughening the state's laws against sex offenders, the House added an amendment this week by state Representative Steve Hurst of Munford.

That amendment would require those convicted of violent sex crimes against children under 12 to undergo the operation to remove their sex drive.

Hurst says someone 12 or under can't defend themselves. He said he doesn't believe the sex offenders should ever be back in society. But if they are going to be back in society, he says, it should be in a reformed way where they can't become a repeat offender.

The amendment touched off heated debate in this special session of the Legislature.

Some lawmakers say no punishment is too tough if it protects children, while others says talk of extreme punishments like castration is political rhetoric aimed at helping legislators get re-elected next year.

At one point the discussion became so graphic that House Speaker Seth Hammett stopped the debate and reminded lawmakers that there were "citizens of all ages" observing in the House gallery.

The bill, as first introduced, provides tougher sentences for sex offenders, removes the possibility of probation or parole from sex offenders and requires some to wear electronic monitoring devices after they are released from prison.

The original bill is being supported by Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Troy King.

The Senate voted Thursday to approve the original bill and send it to the House to consider. The House, meanwhile, passed the amended version with castration and sent it to the Senate, where it has not been considered by a committee.

When the House Judiciary Committee took up the Senate-passed bill, King told the panel he feared the legislation would be unconstitutional if it included the castration provision, citing a 1940s Supreme Court ruling that said sterilization was an unconstitutional punishment.

The bill's sponsor in the House, Representative Neal Morrison of Cullman, says most lawmakers agree that castration is not too harsh of a sentence for people who prey on young children.

During his administration, former Gov. Don Siegelman proposed legislation to require chemical castration of sex offenders against children.

Siegelman said Friday that the electronic monitoring devices would not prevent offenders from attacking children. He says the House should put the castration language back in the bill.

University of Alabama Criminal Justice Professor Robert Sigler says castration has not proven to be an effective way to stop sex offenders from repeating their crimes.

Sigler says research indicates that sexual abuse is not necessarily sexual. He says these people are mentally ill and sexual castration often does not solve the problem.

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