Reduced Prison Sentence for Voluntary Sterilization in Tennessee

Inmates in White County, Tennessee will now be given the option of ending their jail sentence early if they agree to have a birth control implant or a vasectomy. Those who participate in the program will be given a 30 day reduction in their sentence.

Both female and male inmates are eligible for the program. The male inmates are being offered vasectomies and the female inmates will be given a Nexplanon implant in their arm. The implant provides three years of continuous birth control and is 99% effective. The procedures are provided free of charge and are conducted by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Sam Benningfield, the only judge serving in White County, Tennessee, introduced the program as a way to prevent repeat drug offenders and other criminals from having children.

“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 Nashville news station WTVF. “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.”

There has been opposition to the program. The ACLU has released the following statement on the situation.

“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.”

The Tennessee Department of Health also opposes the program. Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker said in a statement, “”We do not support any policy that could compel incarcerated individuals to seek any particular health services.”

Since the program began 32 women and 38 men have volunteered since the program was introduced in May. The men are currently waiting to have the vasectomies performed.

Source: Nancy Lawrence – Staff Writer

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