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Can Castration Be a Solution for Sex Offenders?

"There's got to be some point in time where people like Mr. Jenkins could be eligible for release," Cromwell said.

He said he would "seriously consider" Jenkins for conditional release when his case is reviewed again next year.

Cromwell applauded the state's efforts to exact tough punishment for sexual predators but said the civil commitment law, which Virginia began using three years ago, forces judges into territory typically reserved for psychologists and doctors.

Such cases, he said, place the courts at an unusual intersection between medicine and the law.

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In surgical castration, the testes are removed through an incision in the scrotum. In chemical castration, drugs are injected to lower the testosterone level, which in turn reduces sex drive.

There is debate, however, over the effectiveness of castration. Although such drugs as Depo-Provera and Depo-Lupron can help control some sexual disorders, they may not control, for example, a violent serial rapist who targets adult women out of anger and a need for control. The drugs can also have serious side effects. And there is concern that castrated sex offenders might replenish their testosterone by injecting hormones purchased illegally or over the Internet.

This year, state Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta) floated a bill in the legislature that would have allowed sex offenders to choose to be surgically castrated in exchange for their freedom at the end of their prison sentences. Hanger withdrew the bill after questions arose about whether courts might deem castration cruel and unusual punishment. But he said the fact that sex offenders would volunteer for the procedure should allay such concerns. He hopes to introduce a revised version in the next session.

Jenkins supports Hanger's bill and said he is living proof that castration works. But experts who testified in Jenkins's hearing last week disagreed about its effectiveness.

Psychologists called by the state and Jenkins's attorney said Jenkins will be a pedophile for life. But they disagreed on whether castration, aging and sex offender treatment had reduced his sex drive enough to make him eligible for conditional release.

Mario J.P. Dennis, clinical director at the treatment center, said Jenkins had made marked progress but still needs to be confined for treatment.

"Castration does not completely erase sexual arousal or function," Dennis said. "It doesn't completely obliterate arousal, drive or the ability to commit a sex act."

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