Monday, March 7, 2011

Off With His Head!

"The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. "Off with his head!" she said . . ."
John Tenniel's Queen of Hearts
found on Wikipedia
~Lewis Carroll

According to the New York Times, and reported by the ABA Journal, a Louisiana prisoner was surgically castrated this past week after being charged with sexual assault.  The man accepted a plea bargain and agreed to the procedure (this also happened in Chicago in 2000).

I can imagine the uproar and upheaval that will come from civil liberties groups accusing the judicial system of "cruel and unusual punishment."  The phrase "cruel and unusual punishment comes from several places, including the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  This has been debated over and again, but I think everyone can agree this refers to torture and other socially unacceptable forms of criminal punishment (some have even broadened it to mean "humiliating" punishment . . . which probably wasn't the intention when put in place).

I'm not going to argue whether or not castration is cruel or unusual (I don't think it is, and I may commit a post to the reasons why, but I'll save it for later).  I do think this piece of news brings up a few issues that should be discussed by those legislating for our nation.

The first issue is the whether a convicted sex offender should have a choice, plea bargain or otherwise, in the punishment.  Realistically, what message are we sending to sexual deviants with our justice system?  After the sexual assaulter is convicted, serves a little jail time, and is put on parole, they register their names in a database.  A database that must be searched out.

Recidivism is very high among sexual predators.  Many sex offenders return to molestation immediately on release.  And then they go through the same motions as before.  They may serve a little more jail time, but essentially, they'll be out on the hunt again.  Should they be allowed to choose whether they will be castrated? Does our system believe that a multiple conviction deviant has a right to choose the punishment when countless victims were forced to receive cruel and unusually deviant assault on their innermost physical and mental sanctums?  Are we, as a nation of laws, really going to tell sexual predators that the worst that could happen to them is castration . . . if they so choose?

The second issue contains a broader debate that may not have a resolution.  I'll explain it in an example.  If all punishments for all crimes are the same severity, it nearly incentivizes committing the more severe crimes (for if stealing a pencil receives the same severe punishment as stealing an automobile, it makes it reasonable to try for the auto).  If all punishments are equally passive, it incentivizes the same direction (for if stealing an automobile receives the same light sentence as stealing a pencil, it makes it reasonable to steal the auto).

If sexually molesting a 9 year old girl receives the same punishment as writing a number of bad checks (three months of jail time, with 12 months of a suspended sentence, future parole) then a message is sent to sexual predators.  The message? "If you're going to break the law, break it in a way that satisfies your deviant mind and ruins, nay, TAKES the lives of many."

By the way, the prisoner that was castrated was charged with 6,000 counts of aggravated oral sexual battery and molestation of a juvenile, with accusations of molesting young girls for more than 20 years!  He plead guilty to 3 counts . . .

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