One of the legislative geniuses in the Virginia State Senate thinks he has found a sure-fired way to reduce the cost of dealing with violent sex offenders. Rather than spend scarce funds holding them in psychiatric hospitals, he proposes a simple and more elegant solution: castration.
Senator Emmett Hanger is all about fiscal austerity and getting tough on crime. But this proposal is simply sick. It is the equivalent of a Tea Party suggestion to reduce government waste by requiring that every third lawmaker undergo a lobotomy. Government can’t do much mischief if the governors are disabled.
It is difficult to imagine what sort of cave Senator Hanger inhabits. His repulsive and reactionary suggestion illustrates graphically just what is wrong with our sex offender laws. Does the senator really think that cutting a man’s balls off will cure a mental illness?
Twenty states and the federal government have laws permitting the civil commitment of sex offenders after the offenders have served their period of incarceration. In theory, civil commitment is reserved for violent offenders at high risk of committing another sex crime. But the sad reality is that the law fails to draw distinctions among sex offenders. We are as apt to throw the book at a rapist as we are at a young man who looks at lewd pictures of kids. We’ve created legions of disenfranchised Americans, some dangerous, most merely guilty of a libidinal error.
The cost of committing a person in a psychiatric institution is high. In Virginia, costs have increased to $24 million in 2010. Those costs were $2.7 million in 2004. Senator Hanger no doubt believes that costs can be cut by mutilating the mentally ill. I suspect he won’t worry too much about where to draw the line between the violent and the non-violent. We hate sex offenders, right?
The Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment ought to stand in the way of castration. But the current lay of the law suggests otherwise. The Supreme Court has held that civil commitment is not punishment, you see. It is a step taken in the name of public safety. Locking up a man after he has served his sentence is not an ex post facto law because the loss of liberty is a civil and collateral consequence of an offender’s status. Such is the slippery slope our courts invite us to slide down, down, down to our everlasting sorrow and shame. If castration is ordered as part of a civil process will the court conclude this not punishment?
Castration is shocking to the conscience. That a lawmaker would propose this without embarrassment is a wonder. Perhaps someone ought to determine whether Senator Hanger is playing with a full deck. Lock him up for a while to see whether he’s got all his marbles; or maybe just lobotomize this fool as a clear and present danger to human decency.