A jail in White County, Tennessee, is offering inmates a chance to get out of jail 30 days earlier — but, as always, there is a (rather controversial) catch. In order to have their sentences shaved down, inmates must undergo an elective birth control procedure.
The program, which some find disturbing, began earlier this year. Male inmates are eligible if they get a vasectomy. It also offers reduced sentences to female inmates in exchange for getting a Nexplanon implant in their arms, which provides three to four years of continuous birth control.
A local judge, Sam Benningfield, conceptualized the program and signed a standing order after reportedly speaking with officials at the Tennessee Department of Health, which is apparently performing the procedures free of cost.
The judge’s rationale behind the unconventional program is that it would help reduce the number of repeat offenders who cannot afford child support.
“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,” Benningfield told News Channel 5. “This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.”
The judge also suggested fewer children will be born to drug addicts because of the program.
Since the program started, 32 women have received Nexplanon implants while 38 men are waiting for their vasectomies.
“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.
However, it looks like both Benningfield and the state health department might have failed to notice one tiny detail: Their program could be illegal.
In fact, experts believe it is unconstitutional.
“It’s concerning to me; my office doesn’t support this order,” said White County District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, adding the program may be unethical. “It’s incomprehensible that an 18-year-old gets this done, it can’t get reversed, and then that impacts the rest of their life.”
He also told WTVF, “Those decisions are personal in nature and I think that's just something the court system should not encourage or mandate.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is not too impressed either.
“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement. “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.”
Sadly, this is not the first program of its kind.
In 2104, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill banning “sterilizations of inmates as a means of birth control in correctional facilities” after an audit revealed officials performed birth control procedures on dozens of incarcerated women without obtaining their consent.
Thumbnail Credits: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson