Monday, May 08, 2006

The Most Critical Option: Sex Offenses and Castration in San Diego, 1938-1975

The Most Critical Option: Sex Offenses and Castration in San Diego, 1938-1975 by Mark Linsky

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.

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