SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Two Republican lawmakers are backing a bill that aims to force a medical prescription on convicted sex offenders seeking parole in New Mexico. The bill would give offenders a choice: agree to something called “chemical castration” as a condition of release, or stay in jail.

According to Cleveland Clinic, “chemical castration” refers to the use of chemicals or drugs to stop sex hormone production. Introduced by Republicans Stefani Lord (Tijeras & Edgewood) and John Block (Alamogordo), the bill aims to change the rules for how sex offenders (convicted of criminal sexual contact or penetration of adults or minors) can re-enter their communities.

The basics

Here’s how it would work: In order to be eligible for parole, a sex offender would be required to undergo the chemical procedure at least one month prior to release. The offender would have to keep receiving the treatment until the court considers it no longer necessary, according to the bill. And the offender would generally have to pay for the treatment.

Under the bill, offenders could opt out of the chemical treatment, so long as they return to prison for the length of their parole. If they stop treatments and don’t return to prison, they can be charged with a fourth-degree felony, according to the bill.

“There’s no cure for pedophiles. There’s no treatment plan,” Rep. Lord says. “I wanted to make a condition of release for pedophiles that they have to have this.”

“They call it chemical castration, that’s basically Depo-Provera [a hormonal contraceptive] injections. So, they can be released, but they have to have those injections the whole time that they’re out,” Lord says. “I’d like to do everything I can do to make sure that we’re trying to save our children and keep them safe.”

One of multiple factors

Bonnie Sanchez, a licensed clinical counselor who has spent decades working with sex offenders leaving the Department of Corrections, says these sorts of drug treatment options can help some offenders. “It certainly would be helpful to have it as an option,” Sanchez says. “There’s been several people who have wanted that help.”

But hormonal drive is just one part of why offenders offend – or reoffend. “Most crimes are not, you know, motivated by just that [hormones],” Sanchez says. “They’re motivated by various factors, you know, like anything else – the need for affection, need for attention, need for love.”

Previous attempts

The latest bill isn’t the first time the New Mexico legislature has considered castrating sex offenders. Rep. Lord says she didn’t know the topic has come up in the Roundhouse before, but back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, former Republican Senator Rod Adair tried to pass a similar law.

“Let’s see, that was ’97. So, it’s been 26 years,” Adair told KRQE News 13. “I didn’t want people to call it [castration] because it’s not . . . It’s not castration by any means.”

Adair says that back in the day, he found support for his version of the bill from both Republicans and Democrats. “That actually, was my first bill that I ever got passed in the Senate,” he says. “And it passed by a wide margin.”

He explains that the thrust of his version of the bill was to help offenders. “These folks cannot help themselves,” he says. “I read several accounts where people went for actual castration because they could not stop themselves from being attracted to young boys – usually that’s the case – and so, I presented it as: This is compassionate.”

Research over the last 50 years suggests that drugs like medroxyprogesterone acetate, which can be used for chemical castration, are associated with a decline in male libido. In 2014, the New Mexico sentencing commission mentioned such drugs as a possibility for treatment but noted that: “This reduces sex offenders’ deviant sexual urges, but does not completely remove sex drive,” according to research from 2004.

Will it pass?

The version of the bill introduced several decades ago didn’t pass through both chambers of the legislature, despite finding some support. And because a lot of things have changed since then, Adair is hesitant to make a prediction on the bill this time around.

“Among a certain segment of the population there would be, certainly, a base of support for this, especially if it’s explained correctly,” Adair says. But “there’s no question that the country and for the most part, legislators around the nation . . . have become much more polarized.” So, it’s hard to guess if legislators or community members will come to agreement over this form of treatment.

Several other states have already passed chemical castration laws. For example, in 1996 California was the first state to legalize the use of chemical castration for sex offenders. California Penal Code Section 645 allows courts to require parolees to undergo medroxyprogesterone acetate treatment for sex offenders who victimize children younger than the age of 13. More recently, in 2019, Alabama became the seventh state to approve chemical castration for use in a similar manner to California’s law.