There are few things that are more blatant than what is going on in White County, Tenn., where inmates are apparently given a reduced jail sentence if they agree to get either a vasectomy or a birth control implant.
According to News Channel 5, back in May, General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield signed a standing order permitting inmates to get 30 days’ credit toward jail time if they agreed to a birth control procedure. The program has since been called “unconstitutional” by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Women who agree to participate in the program receive a free Nexplanon implant in their arm, which helps to prevent pregnancies for up to four years, while men who volunteer are given a free vasectomy by the Tennessee Department of Health.
Officials say that since the program began, some 32 women have gotten the implant, while 38 men are waiting to have their vasectomy performed.
There is just so much to dissect with this program and the fact that this was ever approved. But I digress.
To hear Judge Benningfield tell the story, he claims that he is trying to break the cycle of repeat offenders who come into his courtroom on drug-related charges but cannot afford child support or have trouble finding 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,” Benningfield told the news station.
Benningfield decided to go ahead with the program after speaking with officials at the 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,” he added.
Inmates in the White County Jail were also given an additional two days of credit if they completed a state Department of Health Neonatal Syndrome Education Program, which educates inmates on the dangers of having children while under the influence of drugs.
“Hopefully while they’re staying here, we rehabilitate them so they never come back,” the judge said.
Right. Because restricting reproduction is a completely plausible form of rehabilitation. Forget putting money into re-entry programs, job-training programs and a host of other things that could be done that actually have an impact on the lives of inmates.
Anyway, everyone in White County hasn’t gone completely mad, it seems; District Attorney Bryant Dunaway was completely unimpressed by the program, and expressed worry that it might be (might be?) unethical and possibly 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.”
By Wednesday the ACLU had released a statement renouncing the program and the judge’s interference in matters of reproduction:
Offering a so-called “choice” between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional. 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.
Read more at News Channel 5.