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What to know about Louisiana's new surgical castration law

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What to know about Louisiana's new surgical castration law

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry speaks during the start of a special session in Baton Rouge, La., on Jan. 15, 2024. Landry signed a bill in June allowing surgical castration to be a potential punishment for certain sex offenses against children.

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Louisiana is now the first state to allow surgical castration to be used as a punishment for sex crimes under a new law signed by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. This law, which will go into effect Aug. 1, allows judges to order people found guilty of certain sex crimes against minors to undergo surgical castration.

The use of surgical castration as punishment, which is a permanent procedure that involves the surgical removal of the testicles or ovaries ostensibly to stop the production of sex hormones, is rare elsewhere around the world. The Czech Republic, Madagascar and a state in Nigeria have such laws on the books that have been strongly criticized by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.

Several U.S. states, including Louisiana, as well as other countries have laws allowing for the use of chemical castration — a procedure that uses pharmaceutical drugs to quell the offenders’ sex drive — for certain sex crimes.

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The passage of this bill in Louisiana has grabbed headlines and caused ripples of consternation among criminal defense lawyers, advocates and medical experts, raising serious concerns around the ethics and constitutionality of the law and questions over whether this punishment would actually make a difference in reducing sex crimes.

“It’s very confusing, in addition to being absolutely unprecedented, and draconian and overkill,” said Gwyneth O’Neill, a New Orleans-based criminal defense attorney and a member of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

One of the drafters of the bill, Democratic state Rep. Delisha Boyd, told NPR the law will be a strong deterrent for would-be child sex abusers and would protect children.

So, what does the law say?

The law, as written, targets offenders found guilty of aggravated sex crimes, including rape, incest or molestation against a child under 13. The punishment would be brought in certain cases and at a judge’s discretion and the surgery would be completed by a physician. It will also require a court-appointed medical expert to determine whether the offender is the right candidate for the surgery.

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An offender could refuse to get the surgery, but would then be sentenced to three to five years of an additional prison sentence without the possibility of getting out early.

The law doesn’t allow anyone under 17 found guilty of certain aggravated sex crimes to receive the punishment.

Boyd says she was inspired to propose this bill after seeing a disturbing article from a local newspaper about a 51-year-old man who was arrested for the alleged rape of a 12 year old. The story revealed that the man was a registered sex offender. In 2007 he had been arrested for allegedly raping a 5 year old.

Louisiana Democratic state Rep. Delisha Boyd works at her desk at her office on May 3, 2024, in New Orleans. Boyd introduced the bill, now law, that would allow for surgical castration to be used against individuals convicted of certain sex crimes.

Louisiana Democratic state Rep. Delisha Boyd works at her desk at her office on May 3, 2024, in New Orleans. Boyd introduced the bill, now law, that would allow for surgical castration to be used against individuals convicted of certain sex crimes.

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Boyd said that she believes the criticism she’s received from opponents of the law is from people who haven’t closely read the law and think it forces a prisoner to undergo this procedure.

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“Some of the critics say, you know, that’s cruel and unusual punishment. Well, I disagree. I think the cruel and usual punishment was the rape of that 5 year old,” Boyd said.

The reasons why people commit sex offenses are so much more complicated than something that can be fixed with castration, said Maaike Helmus, an associate professor of School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Helmus’ research focuses on offender risk assessment and on men who have committed sexual offenses or intimate partner violence.

“In our minds, it’s easy to link castration to the problem that they’re exhibiting and think that’ll fix it, but it’s taking a lot of leaps and logic that are not warranted, and not considering other alternatives,” like the use of medication, she said.

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This law is part of the state’s ‘tough on crime’ efforts

In February, the state legislature held a special session on crime and passed several bills that Landry and lawmakers said would bring justice to crime victims and their families, according to Baton Rouge Public Radio.

The member station reported that the series of tough-on-crime bills passed the session “will likely reshape the landscape of criminal punishment in Louisiana for years to come.”

The bills expanded death penalty methods, effectively eliminated parole for anyone convicted after Aug. 1, lowered the amount of “good time credit” with few exceptions and established harsher penalties for some crimes.

Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La.

Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La.

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There are concerns over discriminatory application of the law

If it is challenged, O’Neill, the New Orleans-based criminal defense attorney, said it’s highly likely the law would be deemed unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

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“Surgical castration is generally considered, or was considered, to be sort of like the paradigmatic example of cruel and unusual punishment, because it’s a form of physical mutilation. It’s barbaric,” she said.

Once it’s enacted later this summer, O’Neill fears the law could be applied in a discriminatory way — the same way the death penalty and other criminal justice policies tend to be, she said.

There is research that indicates the U.S. criminal justice system is applied unfairly to people of color, especially Black Americans. Research shows the number of imprisoned Black Americans has decreased 39% since its peak in 2002, according to The Sentencing Project, but remains higher for Black Americans generally. And in Louisiana, along with Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, the imprisonment rates are nearly 50% above the national average, according to the organization.

O’Neill says the law also uses vague and potentially confusing terms.

The law’s language mandates that a “court appointed medical expert” can decide if a person found guilty of a sex offense should undergo surgical castration. “We don’t know who that is, who’s going to qualify to be a medical expert,” O’Neill said. “There’s no guidance about that.”

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And that introduces risks for defendants, she said.

“I think anytime you have this vague terminology, you’re not going to get the most qualified people to make such a determination,” O’Neill said. The law also doesn’t establish the criteria to evaluate whether an offender is an appropriate candidate for this punishment, she said.

“Practically speaking, I think it puts defense attorneys in a very difficult position,” she said.

Vehicles enter at the main security gate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary — the Angola Prison, the largest high-security prison in the country in Angola, La., Aug. 5, 2008.

Vehicles enter at the main security gate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest high-security prison in the U.S. in Angola, La., in August 2008.

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Could this law impact repeat offenses?

Part of the motivation behind this law was to cut down on the possibility of someone reoffending. But the research on sexual offense recidivism rates is tough to parse. The research on surgical castration and its effect has only been done on people who have voluntarily undergone the procedure out of concern they will harm again, Helmus said.

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That impacts the analysis because these are individuals who are already working to not reoffend, she said.

“If you combine different studies, over multiple countries and jurisdictions and different types of settings, five-year sexual recidivism rates are generally expected to be in the range of five to 10%. And lifetime rates are maybe around 15 to 20%,” Helmus said.

But that’s only for cases the public knows about.

“We know that not all sex offenses get reported to police for a variety of reasons. And so we know that sexual recidivism rates are to some degree an underestimate, because not everything comes to the attention of police. However, it’s hard to know how much that’s actually going to affect reoffending rates,” she said.

Ultimately there’s very limited research on the effectiveness of any type of castration with people who’ve committed sex offenses, Helmus said.

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“The whole point of castration is that it is supposed to reduce the sex drive. If you’re pursuing castration to reduce sexual offense rates, you’re making an assumption that they’re committing a sex offense because of a high sex drive or high testosterone rates in the first place,” but this is not always the motivation for committing these offenses, Helmus said.

Research indicates that there’s no evidence that people who commit sex offenses have higher testosterone in the first place.

“If that’s not the reason why they’re committing sex offenses, then reducing their testosterone is going to do nothing to reduce that risk,” she said.

Surgical castration also doesn’t mean someone cannot be sexually aroused or, in the case of men, get an erection or ejaculate, Helmus said. Not to mention there is still psychological arousal and urges that are not addressed with this procedure.

“Even if castrated, they can later take medications to reduce or reverse the effects of castration and still be able to increase their sex drive,” she said. “So castration isn’t a foolproof way of getting rid of their sex drive. What we know, especially for people who commit sex offenses against children, they don’t need an erection to be able to commit many of the types of sex offenses that they commit.”

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Boyd still believes that this law could serve as a strong deterrent.

“These predators have to be stopped,” she said. “Even if just one rapist changes his mind about raping a child, I will take that.”

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Video: Biden Says It’s Time to ‘Pass the Torch’ to a New Generation

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Video: Biden Says It’s Time to ‘Pass the Torch’ to a New Generation

new video loaded: Biden Says It’s Time to ‘Pass the Torch’ to a New Generation

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Biden Says It’s Time to ‘Pass the Torch’ to a New Generation

Speaking from the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, President Biden defended his record and celebrated the vice president, Kamala Harris, saying it’s time for new, younger voices to lead the country.

You know, in recent weeks, it’s become clear to me that I need to unite my party in this critical endeavor. I believe my record as president, my leadership in the world, my vision for America’s future all merited a second term. But nothing, nothing can come in the way of saving our democracy. And that includes personal ambition. So I’ve decided the best way forward is to pass the torch to a new generation. You know, there is a time and a place for long years of experience in public life. There’s also a time and a place for new voices. Fresh voices. Yes, younger voices. I would like to thank our great vice president, Kamala Harris. She’s experienced. She’s tough. She’s capable. She’s been an incredible partner to me and a leader for our country. Nowhere else on Earth could a kid with a stutter from modest beginnings in Scranton, Pa., and Claymont, Del., one day sit behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office as president of the United States. But here I am. I hope you have some idea how grateful I am to all of you. The great thing about America is here kings and dictators do not rule. The people do. History is in your hands. The power is in your hands. The idea of America lies in your hands. You just have to keep faith. Keep the faith, and remember who we are. We’re the United States of America. And there is simply nothing, nothing beyond our capacity when we do it together. So let’s act together. Preserve our democracy. God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. Thank you.

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years

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Live news: AI demand propels SK Hynix to highest profit in 6 years
Shoppers crowd Seoul’s Myeongdong district, but analysts expect South Korean domestic spending to deteriorate © Hon Wah Oong/Dreamstime

South Korea’s economy unexpectedly contracted in the second quarter on cooling consumer spending despite stronger exports, increasing expectations of an interest rate cut in the coming months.

Gross domestic product in the April-June quarter shrank 0.2 per cent from a quarter earlier in seasonally adjusted terms, according to the Bank of Korea, while analysts polled by Reuters forecast a 0.1 per cent rise.

This marks the sharpest contraction in six quarters, following 1.3 per cent growth in the first quarter.

Private consumption fell 0.2 per cent and construction spending dropped 1.1 per cent, while exports rose 0.9 per cent.

Capital Economics expects domestic spending to deteriorate, prompting the Bank of Korea to cut interest rates in October, but cautioned that there was an increased chance of a rate cut in August.  

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

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Will Harris sway PA voters? A Pittsburgh area Democrat and Republican each have a say

Left: Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling, Right: John Wink

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PITTSBURGH – Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling of Moon Township, a municipality that sits a few miles northwest of Pittsburgh, smiles as a server at local staple Primanti Brothers delivers a sandwich stacked higher than a double AA battery.

The story that locals like Madonna-Emmerling tell is that this Pittsburgh-style sandwich – layered with coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries – was created so that local blue collar workers could drive large trucks and eat with one hand while on a shift.

The sandwich ties back to her family’s history – and that of many other residents in the area – of working in the steel industry and other blue collar jobs, many of which disappeared long ago. Her father was an auto worker involved in the local union. That led to her now working as a community organizer and “multi-hyphenate” political pot stirrer, she said.

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When there were talks of closing a local school, she protested. She’s president of the library board and fought to keep a LGBTQ book on the shelves. She’s run for public office and trained activists to knock on doors at election time to shore up votes for Democrats.

But selling locals on President Biden at the top of the ticket has proven a struggle. His poor showing at the June debate with former President Donald Trump zapped a lot of energy. Then came the attempted assassination on Trump in nearby Butler, which caused a lot of “whiplash” in this area where many voters don’t adhere strictly to one party or the other.

“People are a little bit checked out. People are very tired. And we’re just trying to say, ‘OK , you’re going to be tired about the top of the ticket, but there’s still work to do,’” Madonna-Emmerling said, noting that some door-knocking efforts were slowed down after the shooting out of respect for Republican voters.

She couldn’t quite see a way forward.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

Kathleen Madonna-Emmerling poses for a portrait outside a restaurant in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

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But then came the historic news that Biden was dropping out and making way for Vice President Harris to take his place. While she wasn’t necessarily calling for Biden to drop out, Madonna-Emmerling said she feels like his decision may prove a consequential one in Pennsylvania, which will again prove key to winning the White House.

“It was a literal exhalation, shoulders lowering,” Madonna-Emmerling said. “We’ve stopped the bleeding.”

More and more volunteers, she said, have called her in recent days about voter outreach efforts since Biden’s move.

“Plug in, let’s go,” she told them. “Get on the train. We’re all going together to the top.”

Their involvement in getting more voters to turn out could make all the difference in Moon Township, and other suburbs that surround Pittsburgh, which historically have voted for Republicans.

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Trump won most of Moon Township’s 13 voting precincts in 2016 when he carried the state, according to Allegheny County Election Results data. And though most precincts again went his way in 2020, Democrats and Joe Biden picked up support in the town, when almost 2,000 more people voted. The same happened in small counties across the state, between here and Philadelphia and helped Democrats win the swing state back.

With the vice president now in the race, a new NPR poll found that the presidential race has hit a bit of a reset. Trump and Harris are now statistically tied, and some independent voters now say they are undecided,

Madonna-Emmerling feels that Harris’ campaign has injected new energy into Democrats, and she feels that the vice president’s background as a prosecutor is a winning combination and makes her an “ideal suburban candidate.”

Polling in the immediate aftermath of Biden’s endorsement for Harris shows she has more work to do with suburban voters, but also has more opportunity with folks in these areas who may now be undecided.

“Often in the suburbs, people want someone who is pro-public safety, pro-police,” Madonna-Emmerling said, adding that many in the area have family who are former military now working in law enforcement. “That can be a really hard barrier to overcome sometimes. And when you can say this is a clear case of a prosecutor against a felon, it’s a home run.”

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But across town, a local Republican says, “We’ll see …”

Moon Township’s elected Republican tax collector John Wink, speaking to NPR from his backyard on a slightly muggy afternoon, said he believes the luster of Harris replacing Biden at the top of the ticket will wear off in the coming weeks.

“We’ll see if that lasts,” Wink said. “I think she’s a terrible candidate. When she actually ran for president, she couldn’t get votes.”

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

John Wink poses for a portrait outside his home in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2024.

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The core issues that Wink said he feels matter most to voters in this part of Pennsylvania – how they are currently experiencing inflation and securing the U.S.-Mexico border – still favor Trump.

Wink, who serves on the GOP’s state committee, has lived in the Pittsburgh area since he was two years old. His father was once mayor of Hampton Township, north of the city. Wink said he started working on campaigns, stuffing envelopes and putting mailers together for candidates, as early as 15 years old.

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And his wife serves on the library board alongside Democrat Madonna-Emmerling.

Residents and voters here are by and large happy with how the town is run, regardless of the party affiliation of those running the local government, he feels. The roads are well maintained and the police force is good, he added.

It’s Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state, closely watched by national politics, that makes living here interesting from a political perspective, Wink said.

“I’m glad Pennsylvania is a swing state, much more interesting than if it was one way or the other,” Wink said. “It’s a whole lot more fun.”

One of his gauges for how elections might go is looking at campaign signs in front yards.

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“I kind of thought Trump was in trouble in 2020 because I was seeing too many Biden signs, much more so than in 2016, where there were very little in the way of Hillary signs,” Wink remembered.

His verdict right now? It’s too early. There aren’t that many signs out yet, Wink said, but he’s still confident Trump will win.

So what are the keys for Trump and Harris here?

Wink said many local Republicans are excited to vote for Trump again, though he said he wished the party had nominated a younger candidate.

He would’ve liked to see Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley be the nominee. But Trump won the primaries, and Wink plans to vote for him.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

Moon Township a suburban town in Allegheny County on July 24, 2024.

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As for whether Moon Township and areas nearby will vote for Trump or Harris, if she becomes the nominee as expected, Wink and Madonna-Emmerling have a similar view.

Families and seniors on fixed incomes here are struggling with the cost of groceries and other costs of living. Under Trump, “things were humming along pretty well,” Wink said, and if Republicans can communicate that message and get their lower-propensity voters to turn out, the election will be theirs.

Madonna-Emmerling thinks voters here will want a candidate to be honest and relatable and Harris fits the bill.

She says people in this community work hard and care about their families and those around them. Speaking authentically to that could motivate those among them who are non-voters to head to the polls.

“Don’t be fake,” Madonna-Emmerling advised. “We have a strong bull**** detector.”

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The audio version of this story was produced by Taylor Haney and edited by Gabriel Spitzer.

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