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Yes, several European countries offer chemical castration as an option for sex criminals

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Pagella Politica, Italy

5 April 2019, Updated: 17 April 2019

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini claimed that the procedure is used in various countries to “enable people to no longer have the urge to commit bestial acts”. We verified the claim. He’s right.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, paying a visit to Bollate prison on March 28, claimed that chemical castration “is used on a voluntary basis in many western countries, and so there are people who request to no longer have the urge to commit bestial acts”.

The claim is accurate. Let’s take a look at how many and which western countries allow such measures.

What is chemical castration?

For the purposes of this fact-check, we’ll leave aside those countries which inflict chemical castration as a punishment, and only take into account those which offer it as an option to prisoners themselves.

Salvini himself specifically uses the term “voluntary”, and refers to people “who request” chemical castration. After all, in Italy, a law which would impose compulsory chemical castration, thus as a punishment rather than an option, would likely go against the constitution, where it is determined that punishments cannot consist of treatments which go against the “sense of humanity” and should lean towards rehabilitation.

In concrete terms, chemical castration consists of a pharmacological therapy which reduces sex hormones (such as testosterone) and, in consequence, eliminates sexual desire. It is normally a reversible procedure, ending after the treatment is discontinued.

Which western countries allow chemical castration?

Unfortunately, we do not have any aggregate data at the EU level. This was made clear in the European Commission’s response on October 20 2017 to questions posed by Dutch MEP, Hilde Vautmans. On August 17 of that year, Vautmans had asked which member states used chemical castration, whether on a voluntary or compulsory basis.

In the absence of official institutional documents, we have at our disposal a somewhat dated comparative study, the International Handbook of Penology and Criminal Justice, an academic study from 2007 on penal systems around the world. Here it is stated (p. 141) that “several European nations also permit the use of chemical castration to control sexual deviance, although there are important limits to the practice”.

The examples mostly come from northern Europe. “For example, Sweden, Finland and Germany have minimum age requirements, ranging from twenty to twenty-five. The use of chemical castration is not necessarily to punish or control convicted sexual offenders per se”, continues the study. “Rather, Finland only allows the procedure if will alleviate the subject’s mental anguish over deviant sexual drives, whereas Denmark, Germany and Norway permit castration if it can be demonstrated that the subject may be compelled to commit sexual crimes due to uncontrollable sexual urges. Sweden allows chemical castration in the event that the subject poses a threat to society, and the practice is strictly voluntary and requires that the subject be fully informed of all possible side effects”.

According to a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Social Sciences, we can also add the USA, Argentina, Australia, Estonia, Israel, New Zealand, Poland, Hungary, France, Iceland, Lithuania, the UK and Belgium to the list of western countries employing such measures.

However, based on official documents graciously shared with us by our British colleagues at Full Fact, Britain does not in fact perform chemical castration on prisoners.

Furthermore, in Belgium chemical castration is not provided for in the law, though judges can require that the conditional release of specific prisoners depends on medico-pharmacological treatment, which can include chemical castration. In any case, the prisoner must submit to such procedures voluntarily and be informed of the health risks.

As for the United States, eight individual states allow castration: California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin. But, apart from the fact that in some cases (Texas for example) the castration is physical and not chemical, it is stressed that in the US chemical castration is mostly compulsory, and thus a punishment rather than the free choice of prisoners.

A similar approach has been adopted in Poland, which is in fact the only country in the European Union to use chemical castration as a compulsory punishment. The country allows the procedure in cases of specific sexual crimes against minors under the age of 15 and next of kin.

Conclusion

Salvini is correct: various western countries allow prisoners to request chemical castration. Among these we can cite the examples of Germany, France, Belgium and the Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland).

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