by Mark Linsky
Jacob Weinberger Award San Diego History Center 1989 Institute of History
Judge Lawrence Neil Turrentine was the sort of man who made a lasting impression on both those who knew him socially and those who appeared before him in the courtroom. By 1938 Judge Turrentine had already logged some eight years on the San Diego County Superior Court bench, where, to his admirers, the Judge displayed a “direct, no-nonsense approach to trials. At the very start, after studying the pleadings, he would ask counsel how long they expected the trial to take. He usually reduced the estimated time by 50% and was often right on target.”1
But another assessment of the Judge offered a slightly different slant on his methods, depicting him as “one less concerned with the law than with his own concept of justice in the instant case; one of widely fluctuating judicial temperament.”2
Regardless of which view of the man called “The Boss” because of his dominance of the Superior Court was correct, the facts indicate that in 1938 Judge Turrentine instituted a program that would lead to national notoriety for San Diego and engender a controversy which continues more than thirty years since his retirement and four years after his death. For in 1938 L. N. Turrentine began offering the option of voluntary castration coupled with long terms of probation to men convicted of sex offenses.3 The vast majority of those men who took advantage of the program were convicted under Section 288 of the California Penal Code* and the alternative to castration for them was clearly a long prison sentence.
The precise motivations for Judge Turrentine’s initiation of the program remain fuzzy. The Judge himself indicated he got the idea from a Los Angeles jurist who had previously dealt with sex offenders in this manner,4 but equally strong influences might have been the lack of precise laws governing the use of castration, coupled with a developing body of scientific knowledge which at first enthusiastically embraced castration as an alternative to imprisonment for those convicted of sex offenses.
The procedure had been pioneered in Europe, first with action taken in Denmark in 1929 and through the 1930s in such progressive countries as Norway and Iceland.5 In Switzerland and Holland the practice developed on the basis of laws in force without any special castration legislation being made.6 In 1934 one European researcher offered a qualified but optimistic evaluation of the results, noting the:
Subjective Satisfaction of the castrated with their treatment, at the same time stressing that the successful results-from a human point of view-have been obtained because the operation was voluntary and accepted as therapy.7
A similar opinion had been expressed as early as 1932 in the United States that castration of the adult male would be fatal to sex drive and potency.8 Although evidence to the contrary began to surface by the end of the decade, the stand of the legal community in the United States was, in general terms, unchanged by new scientific developments. The ” accepted belief ” continued to be that the rights of the individual sacrificed by sterilization were thought to be outweighed by the interests of the community in general.9
At one time California allowed ‘compulsory’ sterilization of certain recidivists confined to State Prison, providing the resident physician, the General Superintendent of the State Hospitals and the Secretary of the State Board Of Health concurred in the opinion.10 As for ‘voluntary’ castration, California law was silent on the issue, thus opening the door for Judge Turrentine and others to initiate just such a program. ** As to whether castration could be considered truly voluntary when offered ‘under the gun’ of imprisonment as an alternative, one observer has noted:
The presence or absence of duress or coercion in the instant situation could be argued indefinitely without resolution-one side claiming that indeterminate sentence represents patient duress, the other side pointing out that the surgery really constitutes an option which the state is not bound to offer.11
Thus if Judge Turrentine knew he was sailing through uncharted seas, at least he could be reasonably certain it was a sea clear of legal reefs. As to the presence of scientific shoals, they were still too few in the late 1930s to raise any significant warning. Moreover, because each defendant was put in the position of ‘requesting’ the operation, the grant of the court not, in any reasonable way, given the laws and the climate of the times, be construed as mandated by court itself, nor was there ever to be an appeal since the convicted sex offender had decided the nature of his own rehabilitation.
While there were no ringing endorsements of the program from the San Diego legal community, there were no loud voices raised in opposition either, presumably because Judge Turrentine,s self-evaluation of the success of the program was taken for granted. Looking back over his twenty years of experience, Turrentine claimed proudly that “Not a single probationer has ‘backfired’ with any criminal case of consequence.”12
Upon Turrentine’s retirement the program was continued by Superior Court Judge John Hewicker. The two men had discussed the issue and Turrentine felt confident take his colleague was the right man for the job, because, as he put it, Hewicker was “the most familiar with it.”13 “Familiarity” in this case implied complete agreement since the two men held remarkably similar views regarding the application of the law.***
Judge John Hewicker was known in San Diego as the ‘hanging Judge’ during his tenture on the bench because he sent so many people to prison.14 Appointed in 1949, he later teamed with Judge William A. Glen to persuade the district attorney to by-pass preliminary hearings in child molestation cases to spare children a double cross-examination in municipal and superior courts. After this policy was adopted, some 90 percent of the accused men pleaded guilty before trial when confronted with the child’s grand jury testimony.15 According to one news account:
This led to a freak in probation almost confined to this county. Most guilty men chose, before asking probation, to have…a castration to quell their sex drive.16
The number of castrations carried out between 1938 and the mid 1970s can accurately be described as staggering, regardless of which figures one relies on — and the figures do vary considerably. Judges Turrentine and Hewicker themselves provide the lowest totals, with Turrentine acknowledging “Approximately 140” such cases17 while Hewicker said he granted probation in 100 cases.18 Author Reay Tannahill compresses the time period to the years between 1955 and 1975 and says that in this twenty year period 397 sex offenders chose to be castrated rather than serve a long jail sentence.19 Judge Douglas Woodworth of San Diego Superior Court indicated in one interview conducted in the mid 1970s that to his knowledge over 370 voluntary bilateral orchidectomies (the medical term for the surgical removal of both testes) had been performed in San Diego between 1943 and 1968.20
Given the extraordinary extent of the program in San Diego, it is curious that opposition to this novel and drastic approach to the problem of sex offenses grew rather slowly and tentatively. The issue was ignored by the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union Which was occupied prior to World War Two and in the years immediately after with a slew of the other civil liberties issues. As for the attitude of the ACLU and the treatment of sex offenders, the organization took a position that deplored the lack of professional help available to offenders in prison and added:
No attempt is made to educate the court-and the public -as to the biological and non-criminal factors involved (in sex crimes)…Judges proceed to “protect society” by sending an essentially sick man to penitentiary…21
This position is interesting because of what it does not address. If “biological” issues played a part in sex offenses then it might be inferred form the ACLU’s statement that remedy such as voluntary castration could be deemed preferable to incarceration if the offender ended up cured by the operation.
A more pointed uneasiness about the program was beginning to surface, however, among a few San Diego probation and medical professional who had their doubts about the end results. One retired probation officer recalls that castration: “didn’t rest well with any of us in probation; I saw one case where the guilt of the man was questionable but he underwent the operation to avoid jail anyhow. He was destroyed by the operation.”22 Another former member of San Diego County Probation Department said the operation had already been performed when he started with probation in 1946 and that the procedure was never recommended by the department itself.23 And a doctor who performed “five or six” bilateral orchidectomies on sex offenders expressed reservations for another reason, stating that although he performed the operations he did so with “mixed feelings” because he knew the patient could take hormones to make up his sex drive.24
These concerns were being mirrored by research in Europe conducted after the Second World War which was beginning to reveal some doubts about the effectiveness of castrating sex offenders. One Swiss investigator said:
Medical advice concerning the effect of castration the effects castration is given the patients… the patient faces the alternatives of detention on the one hand and castration-postponement-liberty on the other. The patient almost invariably chooses castration, not to be cured but to regain freedom.25
European studies had already established the importance of the sex offender’s motive for wanting the operation as a vital factor in determining the success of the procedure. The fact that many sex offenders might choose the surgical removal of the testes simply to avoid prison-and presumably not because they truly wanted to be rehabilitated- was a deeply disturbing prospect to researchers on the both sides of the Atlantic.
Yet substantial political and emotional supports for the castration of sex offenders continued through the post World War Two period and into the early 1950s. In 1951, the California Legislature at its Third Extraordinary Session, passed a bill, AB 2367, providing for mandatory life imprisonment for persons convicted of certain types of criminal conduct who did not ‘consent’ to being castrated.26 The bill was voted by Governor Earl Warren on July 18, 1951, and milder versions, SB 19, failed to pass in the 1952 regular sessions of the legislature.27
About this time, however, attitudes toward the castration of sex offenders finally began to undergo a noticeable change in part because of the widely-read studies on human sexuality by Alfred Kinsey and his team of researchers. The impact of the reports were acute in San Diego where, according to one jurist who remembers the period:
There was a sort of shift away from castration, as I recall, caused by the Kinsey material because it brought into question whether castration was scientifically based. Until then people had believed otherwise.28
Prominent among Kinsey’s findings was a strong condemnation of the wide use castration. Kinsey comments sourly that “in recent decades…castrations have been rationalized (Kinsey’s emphasis) as attempts to modify some aspect of the individual’s sexual behavior.”29 He goes on to cite “misunderstanding of the reliability of the evidence… and because some courts and state legislatures have uncritically types accepted the published records as justification (for) controlling certain types of sex offenders.”30
One of those taken to tasks by name was Judge L. N. Turrentine himself. After noting Turrentine’s observations of the positive effects of castration on some 70 men, Kinsey tartly comments, “since sex offenders are always among the lowest in their rate of recidivism, the Judge’s criterion is in adequate.”31
At the same time the Kinsey study was becoming a best-seller in San Diego and across the nation, a far more obscure but equally important set of reports were being issued in Sacramento. These reports launched a fresh attach on the assumptions surrounding the effectiveness of castration and seemed to indicate a change of course for the California State Legislature which so recently had been willing to order life imprisonment for sex offender who chose not to undergo the operation. The most important of these reports was one entitled “California Sexual Deviation Researcher” published by the California Department of Mental Hygiene in 1953. The report concluded:
It is…felt by American investigators that castration increases the difficulties of rehabilitation…that it applies only to a very small number of sexual criminals if at all, and thus decreases efforts at finding more suitable treatments.32
The author of this study was Dr. Karl M. Bowman, Medical Superintendent of the Langley Porter Clinic in San Francisco. He summed up his personal feelings by noting lack of comprehensive research on the topic:
I have found very few scientific reports and no long-term studies of castration of adult males… such a study would…aid in settling some of the many contradictions about the subject of castration as a treatment of criminal sex offenders.33
Even in the face of the issues raised by such noted experts as Kinsey and Bowman, the use of Voluntary castration continued in San Diego through the 1950s and into the 1960s. According to the County of San Diego Probation Department, a total of 41 persons were still on probation in 1960 who had undergone the operation. Four of these men were probation from prior to 1950s while some 37 had been granted probation since that time.34
Although support for the program began to dwindle through the 1950s and 1960s, it did not evaporate altogether. Clinton T. Duffy, the former warden of San Quentin, offered his endorsement of voluntary castration on the basis of his own observations of those who had undergone the surgery and “showed dramatic emotional improvement” and were “happier, more cooperative and easier to handle” as a result.35
A San Diego surgeon recalls one particular sex offenders who opted for castration because of the fear he would molest his own child and was grateful that the operation had taken away his sex drive.36 John Hewicker II, son of Judge John Hewicker, similarly remembers that a number of offenders said they were “glad they had it done” and that to the best of his knowledge the program was successful as there were no ‘repeaters’ after castration.37 But on an emotional level the most telling arguments for continuation of the program came from the castrasted sex offenders themselves. One offered his assessment thus:
It was the best thing that ever happened to me… before, little girls between seven and ten were so sexually stimulating to me that I couldn’t keep my hands off them… the operation cured me completely. It’s five years since I had it, but not once have I felt the least desire to touch a little girl.39
And in an extraordinary legal statement recorded in 1975, One San Diego sex offender who had undergone the operation admitted that at first he had been reluctant to submit to the surgery because he felt the state was “going too far” and was “asking too much,”39 [there were two endnotes numbered 39 in the printed Journal] but later changed his mind about the procedure. The reasons for this change of mind were two-fold: first, this individual felt he would no longer be potential menace to society by being attracted to young boys, and second, he knew that if he didn’t submit to the surgery he would probably be sent to prison with an indeterminate sentence.40 the statement continues:
I am now more interested and active with people of my own age. I am overcoming my fear of women and enjoy their company on dates and in mixed company … nothing but good has resulted for me and I believe for society as a result of Bilateral-Orchiectomy (sic) Operation performed on me in San Diego.41
Nevertheless, both legal and scientific problems with the program of voluntary castration continued to mount. Shortly after Judge Turrentine’s retirement, some seventy-eight cases involving sex offenders had to be reprocessed through the courts because the Judge had handled them as a civil rather than a criminal matter.42 A spokesman from the district attorney’s office at the time said there was no proceeding in law for method Turrentine used in the cases and that the district attorney’s office was never consulted on the method the judge used.43 While no specific mention of Turrentine’s broad use of the castration option is made in connection with this peculiar situation, it is probable that the Judge used this system to get around complicated legal machinery which required the offender be certified for sexual psychopathic State Hospital for treatment on an indeterminate basis.44
By the late 1960s the ACLU had also grown more interested in castration of sex offenders even if its position remained somewhat unclear. According to an article in the New York Times:
Such operations, formerly a common practice under judicial orders in California, have generally been opposed by the courts since the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit five years ago  against a San Diego judge and a surgeon involved in a similar “Free will” operation.45
However the Area Coordinator for the ACLU in San Diego, interviewed shortly after the publication of this article, said the position of San Diego Office as adopted by its board of directors was that any person, in or out of custody, was entitled to the operation of his choice. The position was qualified by the statement that the ACLU abhors a system which makes radical surgery preferable to incarceration.46
The scientific and medical communities in the United States and Europe also continued to find problems with the procedure and began turning more and more to other alternatives. Denmark, which had been a pioneer in the castration of sex offenders, stopped doing the surgery in 1972 as a result of increasing reluctance among doctors to recommend an irreversible procedure with serious side effects.47
Some of this reluctance may have resulted from the important development of a less drastic option for the treatment of sex offenders in the form of ‘chemical castration’ which did not require the surgical removal of the testes but eliminated the sex drive through the use of Androgen-depleting hormones.+
Additionally, changes in state laws and decisions rendered in the courtroom began to work to weigh in against physical castration as legislators and jurists began to look at castration in light of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel an unusual punishment. In 1974 the State of California began to swing shut the door on voluntary castration by changing the penal code to recognize that:
All persons, including all persons involuntarily confined, have a fundamental right against enforced interference with their thought processes, states of mind, and patterns of mentation throught the use of organic therapies.48
A number of significant cases similarly began to redefine the rights of the defendant in like circumstances. Among the most important of these was Knecht v. Gillman (1973) in which th court pointed out that the mere characterization of an act as ‘treatment’ does not insulate it from Eighth Amendment scrutiny,49 In Kaimowitz v. Michigan Department of Mental Health, (1973 the court additionally found that uncertainty surrounding psychosurgery makes knowledgable consent impossible, and when freedom is contingent on consent, it is impossible for the patient to be free of coercion50 These decisions confirmed that the coercive nature of psychosurgery made the use of such surgery, even if ostensibly ‘volunteered’ for unconstitutional.
But there was to be one more celebrated case in San Diego which would attract national attention and bring to a head the simmering differences of opinion surrounding the use of voluntary castration. In 1975, two convicted San Diego Child molesters requested they be castrated. The New York Times summarized the offenders’ Position by surmising that:
The two cellmates, perhaps remembering a practice common in San Diego before 1970, asked to be castrated and signed waivers releasing their lawyers, the judge and court- appointed doctor from liability for the operation.
The presiding judge in this case was Douglas R. Woodworth. Judge Woodworth’s expressed willingness to grant the request was based on his belief that the operation be “part of a rehabilitation program that might contribute to a possible grant of probation,52 But the position of the medical community in San Diego had Changed dramatically from the compliant days of Judge Turrentine. Instead of agreeing to carry out the requests of the two sex offenders, the action was blocked by the unwillingness of surgeons to perform the operation. Initially Dr. Alan H. Walther, a Urologist on the staff of University Hospital had agreed, but changed his mind after conferring with medical colleagues at the hospital, all of whom advised him against doing the operation.53
In a long and thoughtful letter to Dr. Raymond E. Lawton, M.D., president of the Urological Society, Dr. Walther detailed his objections. In summary these objections were: 1) the lack of medical evidence to support castration for sexual criminals, 2) the lack of comprehensive scientific studies of castration results and 3) that the criteria for established in Europe was clearly unmet in the two San Diego cases.54 Dr. Walther concluded:
In these situations we must state what medical treatment we would give to an individual if he had not been arrested at all. . . (Walther’s emphasis) Without other documented medical evidence this must be considered as being social surgery and not medical surgery.55
Judge Woodworth’s recollection of Dr. Walther’s objections and those of the other surgeons emphasizes a critical fourth point: the uneasiness of the medical community over the legal complications that might have been encountered by performing the operation regardless of the signed waivers.56 Indeed, the medical society informed Dr.Walther that although group insurance protected him against any malpractice claim, he might still be liable — without insurance proctection — to a later lawsuit for mayhem or assault and battery, regardless of the waivers.57
After a confused period in mid-1975 when several other doctors apparently volunteered to perform the castrations and then changed their minds, the two defendants were sentenced to castrations and then changed their minds, the two defendants were sentenced to statutory terms in State Prison.58
While this episode wrote an end to the issue of voluntary castration in San Diego, opinions concerning the nearly forty years of its use — and the level of its success — continue to be debated quietly both in San Diego and nationally. There are still jurists, members of the bar, district attorney’s office and the medical community who continue to believe that castration should be offered again as an alternative to prison for certain types of convicted sex offenders. These professionals put great emphasis on their belief that, based on the experiences of 1938-1975, castration works in rehabilitating and returning to productive lives men who otherwise would languish in prison.
The opposite view expressed by professionals in the same fields — and supported by a considerable body of scientific evidence — is that legally, morally and medically the use of castration today is a totally unacceptable and unnecessary treatment for sex offenders and that the hidden agenda for its use has never been to rehabilitate but rather to punish through mutilation.
It is worth noting that while opinions on both sides of the issue remain strong, the debate has been muted in San Diego by a tacit public silence. The reason for the silence might be that issue is now in the past and that those who were Knowledgeable about the program are either dead or are occupied with other concerns. But another view worthy of consideration would suggest that there remains a wide-spread feeling of disquiet the number of castrations that were performed in San Diego and a similar uneasiness about the “voluntary” nature of the surgery when the alternative offered by the court was a long prison sentence.
Judge L.N. Turrentine himself, when called upon in two separate interviews to reminisce about his nearly thirty years on the bench, showed a remarkably sharp memory for certain issues. For instance, he bemoaned the tendency of the Supreme Court to expand the rights of the accused and acknowledged that many of his decisions would probably be reversed in the judicial climate created by the Warren Court. But what strikes the reader as most curious is that while he was able to recall in considerable detail one oil drilling case and offered a meticulous recounting of the legal struggle over the construction of a dam in Ventura County, he never once mentioned the 140 men who stood before him asked his permission to be castrated.
1. Jeff Stickney, Stickney’s Cracker Barrel Antics of Lawyers and Judges in San Diego in the Early Part of This Century (San Diego: Law Library Justice Foundation, 1982), p. 68.
2. Leland G. Stanford, Footprints of Justice. . . In San Diego and Profiles of Senior Members of the Bench and Bar (San Diego: San Diego County Law Library, 1960)
3. San Diego Union, November 14, 1958.
*Section 288 deals with sex crimes against minors. While the names and case numbers of many of the defendants between 1938 and 1975 are not available, it was the opinion of Judge Douglas Woodworth and a number of others expressed in interviews with the author that probably ‘nine-tenths’ of those castrated had been convicted of sex crimes involving minors.
4. Evening Tribune, November 14, 1958.
5. Johan Bremer, Asexualization, A follow-up study of 244 cases (New York: McMillian Company, 1959), p.1.
8. Jim Rees, ‘Voluntary Castration of Mentally Disordered Sex Offenders,’ in Criminal Law Bulletin, Vol. 13, No. 1 p.34.
9. Ibid., p.37.
10. Ibid., p.38.
** In the case Skinner v. Oklahoma,1941, 316 U.S. 535 the Supreme Court decided that all such operations had to be voluntary. The Court’s decision in Skinner to do with the denial of equal protection.
11. Rees, Voluntary Castration, p.39.
12. Evening Tribune, November 14,1958.
* * * Interviewed in November of 1982, Judge Turrentine was asked if he liked Judge Hewicker. Turrentine replied: “oh, very much. He thought just the way I did. He has a little brusquer way of doing things than I did. But he is really sound; he is one of the best judges we’ve had, I think.” (Transcribed Interview for the San Diego History Center, p.13).
14. Evening Tribune, February 22, 1984. It should be noted here that the Judge was proud of this moniker. When the author encountered him in downtown San Diego in the late 1970s, the Judge struck up a conversation, stuck out his hand and introduced himself as “John Hewicker, the hanging Judge.”
15. San Diego Union, May 10, 1970
17. San Diego Union, November 14, 1958.
18. San Diego Union, May 10, 1970
19. Reay Tannahill, Sex in History: A Scarborough Book. (New York: Stein And Day Publisher, 1982), p. 247. The author wrote to Ms. Tannahill who lives in London, England, and asked her for the source of these numbers and dates. Ms. Tannhill’s reply, dated January 23, 1989, indicated that in 1975 there had been some public discussion in England in regard to dealing with sex offenders. To the best of her recollection the San Diego figures appeared as “more or less a throwaway line” in the London Sunday Times.
20. Rees, Voluntary Castration, p. 31. In a recent telephone interview with the author, Judge Woodworth, now retired, scaled down this estimate based on his belief that all or nearly all of the castration cases were heard by either Turrentine or Hewicker, thus bringing his estimate in line with those of Turrentine and Hewicker themselves.
21. The Open Forum, Offical Organ of The American Civil Liberties Union-Southern California Branch, Vol. 24 No. 3, February 8, 1947 p. 2.
22. Interview with Robert P. Rosenberry, January 18, 1989.
23. Interview with P.N. Burrows, January 18, 1989.
24. Interview with Dr. Blake Talbot, January 25, 1989.
25. Bremer, Asexualization p. 5
26. Alfred Kinsey et. al. Sexual Behavior In The Human Female, (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1953) p. 728.
28. Interview with Judge Perry Langford, February 8, 1989.
29. Bremer, Asexualization, p. 9.
31. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior, p. 728. It should also be noted that the mention of L. N. Turrentine in the Kinsey report let to a sort of celebrity status for the Judge. Both Judges Woodworth and Langford recall a San Diego Bar Association dinner (1953?) which featured a skit involving Turrentine and a pair of hedge clippers. The symbolism was obvious to all.
32. California Sexual Deviation Research, January 1953, State of California Department of Mental Hygiene, Printed by the Assembly of the state of California at the Request of H. Allen Smith, Chairman, Judiciary Subcommittee on Sex Research p. 127.
34. Probation Department Letter to Judge Douglas Woodworth, July 7, 1975.
35. Clinton T. Duffy, Sex and Crime. (New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1965), p. 147.
36. Interview with Dr. Gerald Howe, January 26, 1989.
37. Interview with Mr. John Hewicker II, January 3, 1989.
38. Duffy, Sex and Crime, p. 151.
39. Affidavit submitted at the request of Judge Douglas Woodworth, 1975, p. 1 (name and specific date omitted by Judge Woodworth).
41. Ibid., p. 3.
42. San Diego Union, August 11, 1960.
45. The New York Times, May 6, 1975.
46. Rees, Voluntary Castration, p. 32.
47. Jorgen Ortmann, “The Treatment of Sexual Offenders,” in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Winter, 1980, p. 445.
+ The use of chemical castration in the United States was pioneered in the early 1960s by Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins University. The focus of this therapy was on the drug Depo-Provera. In Europe, the anti-hormone treatment involved Cyproterone Acetate. In an interview with the author, Professor Park Dietz of the University of Virginia said that while these drugs may be effective, the offender’s hormone levels must be monitored on a weekly of bi-weekly basis, presumably to make sure the offender isn’t compensating for the effects of this therapy by taking testosterone to restore his sex drive.
48. Rees, Voluntary Castration, p.38.
49. Ibid., p. 32.
50. Ibid., p.40.
51. The New York Times, May 6, 1975.
54. July 8, 1975. Parts of this letter were also reproduced in the New York Times article.
56. Interview with Judge Douglas Woodworth, January 12, 1989.
57. New York Times, May 6, 1975.
58. Rees, Voluntary Castration, p. 30.
THE PHOTOGRAPH is from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.