Tennessee judge offers inmates 30 days off sentence if they get sterilized

By Ray Downs   |   July 21, 2017 at 2:52 AM
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July 21 (UPI) -- Prisoners at a small county jail in Tennessee are being given an opportunity to get 30 days removed from their sentence -- if they agree to be sterilized.

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

"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 told News Channel 5.

The program was introduced in May to both male and female prisoners. So far, 32 women have had a Nexplanon implant put in their arm, which can prevent child birth for up to four years. Thirty-eight men have signed up to get a vasectomy.

Although Benningfield is excited about the program and says it can encourage responsibility and reduce recidivism, District Attorney Bryant Dunaway believes it is unethical.

"It's concerning to me. My office doesn't support this order," Dunaway said.

Some question the concept's constitutionality.

"Offering a so-called 'choice' between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU chapter in Tennessee. "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."

Getting sterilized in exchange for a reduced sentence is sometimes an option in special cases, such as Virginia resident Jessie Lee Herald, who agreed to a vasectomy after a hit-and-run conviction that injured his 3-year-old son.

The judge noticed that Herald had several children with several women and offered the vasectomy in exchange for five years to be cut off his sentence.

California sterilized nearly 150 women between 2006 and 2010 without proper approval, according to the Center of Investigative Reporting.

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