Social Environment of Chemical Castration

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Chemical castration is a policy that has been used to address the problems created by sex offenders because it lowers the sexual activities of those individuals through administration of drugs. The United States Constitution has no written policy on chemical castration but a few states in the U.S have enacted legislation on chemical castration. For example, the California statute, enacted in 1996, states that, in part, “the parolee shall begin medroxy-progesterone acetate treatment one week prior to his or her release from confinement in the state prison and shall continue treatments until the Department of Corrections demonstrates to the Board of Prison Terms that this treatment is no longer necessary” (Daley, 2008). This law requires a convicted offender to undergo chemical castration if he or she has committed the crime more than once to a victim who is below 13 years of age.  In Montana, the chemical Statute, which was enacted in 1997 states that “ a person convicted of a first or subsequent offence under 45-5-503(3) or 45-5-507(4) may, in addition to the sentence imposed under those sections, be sentenced to undergo medically safe medroxy-progesterone acetate treatment or its chemical equivalent or other medically safe drug treatment that reduces sexual fantasies, sex drive, or both, administered by the department of corrections or its agents pursuant to subsection (4) ” (Daley, 2008). Another section of the legislature in Montana states that if the convicted person is not sentenced to mandatory chemical castration, he can choose to do so voluntarily. Other states that have enacted legislation on chemical castration include Florida, Wisconsin, and Louisiana.

Castration of sex offenders has been a practice adopted in many parts of the world for many years. In the United States, California was the first state to enact the law in 1996(Oswald, 2013). Chemical castration was an additional clause to the existing criminal statutes in California, which was added to include chemical castration as a punishment for sex offenders, mostly making it a requirement for parole. The California Superior Court declared that “chemical castration was a less severe alternative to surgical castration for a child molester’s sentence”, in the People v. Clotfelter (Oswald, 2013). The high rate of sex offense crimes in California contributed to the addition of chemical castration to the existing criminal statute and it was welcomed by most residents of California as the best way of dealing with sex offenders (Daley, 2008). The belief among medical and legal practitioners that sex offenders suffered from mental illness and other biological conditions that made them unable to control their sexual urges and fantasies led to the rise of treatments such as chemical castration in an attempt to help the offenders (Busto, 2011). The adoption of treatment of sex offenders was thus meant to protect the public while at the same time preventing repeat offenses. The policy has an effect on public trust and safety because the public feels safer since the treatment reduces the number of repeat sex offenders.

Chemical castration policy has been enacted in different states in the U.S with the main purpose of dealing with sex offenders. Specifically, the policy works at reducing repeat offenders who go back to the society after incarceration. According to Daley (2008), rapists had a 46.2% rate of repeating the offense while child molesters had a 36.9 % rate. As such, policymakers had to come up with a solution to reduce the rate of sex offenders’ recidivism. In addition to this, keeping offenders in prison or civilly committing them is very expensive (Wright, 2008). On average, committing a sex offender civilly costs more than $100,000 per year on average (Daley, 2008), while incarceration costs about $ 20,000 per year on average (Tullio, 2009). As such, chemical castration was the most viable solution to the problem in terms of costs incurred in dealing with sex offenders. Finally, chemical castration is reversible once the individuals withdraw from taking the drugs, and was therefore considered a more safe option in comparison to surgical castration (Oswald, 2013).

Policy Environment

            The development of chemical castration policy is influenced by different factors from the social, economic, and political environment. The needs in these environments affect the development and validity of chemical castration. Given that the policy is intended to protect the members of the public from sexual offenders, the social, economic, and political environments affect its formulation to a great extent. This section examines how these environments influence the origin, development, and implementation of chemical castration.

Social Environment

            The policy is influenced significantly factors in the social environment. The origin, development, and implement of chemical castration depends majorly on societal patterns and practices. Given that chemical castration meant to curb incidences of sexual abuse, it is a policy that arises from increased incidences of related crimes. According to Tullio (2009), about 100,000 -500,000 children in the US undergo sexual molestation annually. By the age of 18, 10-25% of children have experienced sexual molestation (Tullio, 2009). It is evident, therefore, that sexual abuse of children is an epidemic in the country and thus a serious social problem. 

The high rates of sexual molestations gave rise to chemical castration. It is thus one of the ways the society can reduce the cases of sexual abuse. Tullio (2009) points out that the sexual abuse crimes are committed by strangers, friends, and even family members. The prevalence of these crimes means that the members of the society are not safe. Chemical castration thus serves as one of the ways in which members of the society can be protected from sexual offenders. As informed by Levenson, Brannon, Fortney, & Baker (2007), a great deal of anxiety in the society is provoked by sex crimes. The fear that the member of the public feel as result of the presence of sex crimes and sex offenders means that a policy has to be in place for their protection. The high rates of sex crimes, therefore, contribute to a great extent on the decision to develop and implement chemical castration.

            The isolated incidences of sex crimes arouse public fear that culminates in concerned citizens and experts demanding reforms (Sample & Kadleck, 2008). Therefore, the perceptions of the members of the public influences the development and implementation of chemical castration policy. When the concerned citizens and expert groups push for reforms, it reaches a point where they cannot be ignored and as such, public officials have to act. It is evident that the development of chemical castration policy begins from the sex crimes in the society. With a high number of sex offenders, fear is created among the members of the society and one of the solutions to this problem comes in form of chemical castration policy. Therefore, the social environment contributes significantly to the development and implementation of the policy.

Economic Environment

            There are also factors from the economic environment that influence the development of chemical castration policy. There are a number of alternatives that can be used to deal with sex crimes. Each of the different alternatives has different costs. The development and implementation of chemical castration as a way of curbing sex crimes, therefore, depends on the economic costs of the different alternatives.

            According to Tullio (2009), chemical castration is less expensive compared to keeping the offenders in prisons and hospitals. With this cost consideration, it is evident that it is economically beneficial to develop and implement chemical castration compared to other policy alternatives. Given that it can be implemented at a reduced cost compared to other alternatives, the money saved can be spent in other sectors to improve the economy. Tullio (2009) points that it costs the governments about $20,000 annually to the house and care for one inmate. This is a significant amount of money which can be used in other development areas. In addition, it is important to note that the costs of projects such as the construction of new prisons have not been put into consideration. In this case, an increase in the number of offenders means that government expenditure on incarcerated offenders rises.

            Another alternative to chemical incarceration is civil commitment. As informed by Tullio (2009), there are seventeen states in the US that have civil commitment programs in place. The annual cost of the programs is between $500,000 and $45 million. In addition, as informed by Wright (2008), the costs of civil commitment is four times more than the cost of incarceration. Wright (2008) also notes that in many of the civil commitment facilities offer ineffective and substandard treatment. With such high costs of both incarceration and civil commitment programs, chemical castration emerges as the most cost-effective of dealing with sex offenders. In some states such as Lousiana and Iowa, it is required that the sex offender pays for the cost of their own treatment. This means that the costs of chemical castration are much lower compared to other alternatives. It is deducible that cost is a significant factor that influences the development and implementation of chemical castration policy. It saves the taxpayer significant amounts of money which can be channeled to other sectors of the economy.

Political Environment

            According to Wright (2008), sex offenders evoke political response more than other villains such as drug dealers, murderers, terrorists, drunk drivers, and mobsters. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the prevalence of sex crimes leads to fear among the members of the public which consequently culminates in pursuance of policy measures.  The political environment influences the policy in that it determines its development and implementation. It is the political leaders that develop and implement policies that are meant to protect the members of the public. Therefore, the political environment affects to a great extent the formulation of any policy, not just chemical castration.

            According to Sample & Kadleck (2008), it is the suggestions of some scholars that the criminal justice reforms pursued by public officials are just a way of political posturing to guarantee their elections. Therefore, in the case the public call for a solution to a problem, public officials come in to solve it and increase their chances of being elected. In the case of chemical castration, the public officials may focus on its development and implementation in order to earn votes from the electorates. The fear felt by the members of the public pushes concerned individuals as well as the media to demand reforms. When the concerns are acted upon by public officials, they not only solve a public problem but also their chances of continued employment as public servants. Sample & Kadleck (2008) points out that when media coverage of criminal events increase, public officials, interpret it as a sign of public concern and they are thus forced to act on them. In the case of chemical castration, when the coverage of sex crimes increase, the chances of its implementation increases. It is important to note that the development and implementation of chemical castration policy has to take into consideration the provisions of the constitution. The First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments can be used to argue against chemical castration (Oswald, 2012). Therefore, when public officials seek to address the fear of sex offenders by the public, considering these aspects of the constitution is necessary. As such, this can lead to the consideration of the other alternatives.

Effectiveness and Efficiency of Chemical Castration


            Chemical castration policy is a policy that is aimed at reducing recidivism in sex offenders by use of drugs that reduces their sex drive and sexual activities. The main goal of chemical castration policy is to protect the public, and especially children, from sex offenders (Daley, 2008). It is the responsibility of the state, federal and local government to protect the citizens from any potential harm. Thus, by enacting the chemical castration policy, the various states with this legislature are exercising their power to serve and protect the citizens from the threat of repeat sex offenders. In addition, having a chemical castration policy ensures that sex offenders are productive while at the same time ensuring public safety (Daley, 2008).A productive group of offenders also ensures that taxpayers money is not spent in keeping offenders in prison. 

            One of the main specific objectives of the chemical castration policy is an increase in the number of sex offenders who are chemically castrated. This objective shows a partial achievement in reducing the number of repeat offenders, thus protecting the general public. Another specific objective is cost minimization which indicates that the state is able to reduce costs involved in keeping offenders in prison, thus saving taxpayers money. The use of public opinion and support is the best criteria to determine whether the specific objectives of the policy are being met. The public has been very supportive on any policy that aims at dealing with sex offenders (Koon-Magnin, 2015). This shows that the public is confident that the policy will serve its purpose, which helps them feel safe and protected as promised by the government. Another criterion is the reduction in recidivism rate in the states that have enacted the chemical castration policy.

            Specific measurements to be used in the evaluation framework in this case include views of citizens on chemical castration policy and the reduction of recidivism in sex offenders. The use of chemical castration has produced positive results in the past years because it has been quite effective in minimizing sex offenders’ recidivism (Douglas, Bonte, Focquaert, Devolder, & Sterckx, 2013). A study by Losel and Schmucker (2005) revealed that the rate of sexual recidivism had reduced by 37% for those offenders who had been treated. Interestingly, treatment of sexual offenders is more effective in juvenile offenders than in adults. The treatment is more effective in minimizing the level of sexual arousal of sex offenders. Chemical castration using LHRH has shown to be very effective in reducing recidivism rate since it lowers the testosterone levels in sex offenders (Lee & Cho, 2013). Despite the risks associated with chemical castration, the policy has been beneficial in reducing the rate of recidivism as shown in different studies. According to Meras, Mancini, Gertz, and Bratton (2007), the public is very supportive of any policy that aims at protecting children from sex offenders no matter how stringent it is, but more importantly, the public is of the view that sex offenders should be treated to prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.

            Based on the framework, it is clear that chemical castration has received a lot of support from the public, starting with the residents of California. This indicates that the public believes that the legislation stands a chance of protecting them from sex offenders. In addition, studies have indicated that chemical castration lowers recidivism of sex offenders, thus indicating that the policy has been effective in achieving its main goal of reducing the rate of recidivism.


            Different studies have shown that chemical castration lowers the rate of recidivism in sex offenders in states that have enacted the chemical castration policy. This means that the number of repeat sex offenders is reduced and therefore the number of offenders to be incarcerated for repeat offenses is also reduced. It costs the government about $ 20,000 per inmate every year to keep them in prison (Tullio, 2009). Therefore, when the number of repeat offenders is reduced through chemical castration, the government saves $ 20,000, which could have been spent taking care of repeat sex offenders in prison. Thus, in this sense, the chemical castration policy is efficient because it saves taxpayers dollars. In addition, the other possible solution of dealing with sex offenders is civil commitment which is even more costly than incarceration (Daley, 2008). For every sex offender whose recidivism rate is reduced through chemical castration, the taxpayer is saved hundreds of dollars which could have been used in committing them, if this was the considered option.  The cost of chemical castration treatment, in specific the MPA injections, costs $ 160 per month, which makes the cost of chemical castration approximately $ 1920 annually (Tullio, 2009).  This cost is relatively low, in comparison to other options such as incarceration, yet the benefits are more because it reduces recidivism rates among sex offenders. More importantly, in some of the states such as Louisiana, the cost of chemical castration is undertaken by the sex offenders (Tullio, 2009).  This lowers the costs incurred by the state even further, yet the public is kept safe.

Policy Alternatives

Possible Alteration

            One possible alteration to the chemical castration policy is making it compulsory rather than voluntary. According to Douglas, Bonte, Focquaert, Devolder, & Sterckx (2013) when chemical castration is offered as an alternative to prolonged incarceration as it is in some states, it renders the consent of the offender invalid. Therefore, instead of the policy having prolonged incarceration as an alternative, one possible alteration is making chemical castration policy mandatory. Douglas, Bonte, Focquaert, Devolder, & Sterckx (2013) point out that in a number of jurisdictions, the choice of the offender to undergo chemical castration is coerced to some extent. In this case, if the offender refuses to undergo the process, there is the prospect of increased incarceration. It is thus evident that the consent of the offender is not valid. This is against the doctrine of informed consent which requires the consent to be given free of coercion. The coercion comes when the alternative to chemical castration is a lengthy sentence. This comes out as partly coercive because it is impossible for the offender to choose the lengthy sentence over chemical castration (Douglas, Bonte, Focquaert, Devolder, & Sterckx, 2013). Therefore, the offender cannot be said to have the capacity to choose freely. Given that after all the offender is going to choose chemical castration over the prolonged sentence, it is rational to make the process compulsory.  This may raise constitutional concerns but Tullio (2009) argues that it does not violate the constitution. The process takes into consideration the offender’s safety and health and there exist procedural safeguards to protect them from abuse. Given that these safeguards are present, the treatment cannot be said to be cruel (Tullio, 2009). In addition, it is a compelling interest of the nation to keep its citizens safe from sexual predators.  It is also important to note that if chemical castration is made mandatory, it would save the economy significant amount of money that could be used for other important development projects. Therefore, making the chemical castration compulsory rather than an alternative to prolonged sentence is a possible alteration to the policy.


            Surgical Castration. Surgical castration compares to chemical castration to a great extent in that they both aim to reduce the testosterone level in order to attenuate the sexual urges of the offender (Douglas, Bonte, Focquaert, Devolder, & Sterckx, 2013). While the use of surgical castration has reduced, it is still legal in some states including Lousiana, Iowa, Florida, Texas, and California (Douglas, Bonte, Focquaert, Devolder, & Sterckx, 2013). The authors also point out that reversible surgical castration was still practiced in many jurisdictions prior to the 1960s but chemical castration replaced it.

According to Weinberger, Sreenivasan, Garrick, & Osran (2005), there is a low recidivism among surgically castrated sexual offenders. Unlike chemical castration that is administered over an extended period of time, the surgical procedure is only done once. This means that in terms of cost, it is less expensive compared to chemical castration. However, as pointed out by Weinberger, Sreenivasan, Garrick, & Osran (2005), it is not considered a sexual recidivism standard procedure.

            Prolonged Incarceration. A prolonged prison sentence is also another viable alternative that can be used to deal with perpetrators of sexual offenders. Instead of offenders undergoing the chemical castration, the time they spend in prison is increased. As shown in this paper, a prolonged prison sentence can be costly and takes a significant part of the governments’ budgets. In addition, with an increased number of offenders, the cost of caring and housing for inmates increases. Therefore, incarceration is not cost-effective compared to chemical castration. According to Weinberger, Sreenivasan, Garrick, & Osran (2005), despite lengthy incarcerations, offenders repeated new crimes. The authors also note that there is a higher rate of recidivism in lengthy incarceration compared to surgical castration.

            Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). According to Dolan (2009), CBT is the preferred treatment method as per the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA).  In addition, Moster, Wnuk, & Jeglic (2008) notes that after undergoing CBT, the offenders are released back to the community. The authors also point out that there is only preliminary evidence to show that CBT can decrease recidivism in sexual offenders. The interventions based on principles of needs and risk are the most common treatment forms that are used with sex offenders. Dolan (2009) posits that CBT uses cognitive restructuring to reduce the offender’s risk of reoffending. CBT interventions also aim to develop the offender’s relapse prevention skills (Dolan, 2009).

            Civil Commitment. There exist sexual violent predator (SVP) laws that allow civil commitment of sexual offenders. Civil commitment involves the treatment of an offender in a psychiatric hospital. If it has been determined by the courts that there is a high risk of the perpetrator reoffending, they can be civilly committed. This civil commitment can be done even if the offenders have completed their prison sentence. As informed by Boccaccini, Murrie, Hawes, Simpler, & Johnson (2010) the SVP laws are unusual given that they depend heavily on the psychological assessment results. As determined earlier, civil commitment is more expensive compared to lengthy incarceration, chemical castration, and surgical castration.

Summary Comparison of Policy Options

            There are various possible options to the chemical castration policy with some of them applying the same concept and others using totally different concepts. Surgical castration applies the same concept as chemical castration because both work by reducing the testosterone levels in sex offenders, thus reducing their sex drive and sexual fantasies. The only difference between the two is that surgical castration is a one-time procedure, whereas chemical castration has to be undertaken over a period of time, until the department of corrections deems it successful. The other option, prolonged incarceration, involves an increase in the time an offender is kept in prison. This way, the offender is kept off the streets, ensuring public safety. However, offenders are sometimes forced to choose between incarceration and chemical castration in some states as a condition of their parole.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another option that involves cognitive restructuring to minimize the risk of a repeat offense in sex offenders. This form of treatment is highly recommended by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, and after the treatment, the offenders are considered safe to be let back into the streets. The last option, known as civil commitment, involves committing the offender to a psychiatric hospital after they are released from prison. This is the most common option, although it is very expensive in comparison to other options. 

Chemical castration policy has not been enacted in most states in the United States and is not in the constitution. There are also other states that have tried to enact the legislature, although unsuccessfully. This shows how much policymakers are willing to deal with sex offenders and are trying to come up with possible solutions.


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Sample, L. L., & Kadleck, C. (2008). Sex offender laws: Legislators' accounts of the need for policy. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(1), 40-62.

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August 01, 2023
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