Tennessee prisoners to get reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization

Ivan Pentchoukov
By Ivan Pentchoukov
July 21, 2017US News
Tennessee prisoners to get reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization
(ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners in White County, Tennessee, can now get a 30-day reduction to their jail time if they agree to become sterilized via a free vasectomy courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Health.

Judge Sam Benningfield signed a standing order on May 15 reducing jail sentences for male and female inmates that undergo a birth control procedure.

Men who participate in the program are offered a free vasectomy—a form of surgical birth control that is mostly irreversible, meaning that men who get it may never be able to have children again. Women who participate in the program get a free Nexplanon birth control implant in their arm. Nexplanon is effective for four years.

According to White County officials, 32 women have already received the Nexplanon implants and 38 men are on a waiting list for vasectomies.

Judge Benningfield decided to start the program to break the cycle of repeat offenders who come into his courtroom on drug-related charges, can’t pay child support, or find jobs.

“I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, to not to be burdened with children. This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves,” Judge Benningfield told NewsChannel 5.

Benningfield said that he got the idea after speaking with doctors as the Tennessee Department of Health.

“I understand it won’t be entirely successful but if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win, win,” Benningfield added.

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, who oversees White County cases, expressed concern that the program might me unethical, or even illegal.

“It’s concerning to me, my office doesn’t support this order,” Dunaway said. “It’s comprehensible that an 18-year-old gets this done, it can’t get reversed and then that impacts the rest of their life.”

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the program in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” the statement said.

Such a choice violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity by interfering with the intimate decision of whether and when to have a child, imposing an intrusive medical procedure on individuals who are not in a position to reject it. Judges play an important role in our community—overseeing individuals’ childbearing capacity should not be part of that role.

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