Jul 21, 2017

Inmates in Tennessee offered reduced jail time if they have vasectomy

Elaine Thompson / AP

Two months ago, General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield of White County, Tennessee signed an order allowing inmates to lessen their jail time by up to 30 days by for receiving a birth control implant or vasectomy. Since the program started, at least 32 women and 38 men have decided to take the deal, according to county officials.

Judge Benningfield explained the reasoning behind the practice to News Channel 5:

"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."

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the constitutionality of the order.

The ACLU's statement:

"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."

A long history: This isn't the first case of inmates being coerced into sterilization. In the early 1900s there was a movement of forced sterilization in prisons across the U.S., with California leading the country in these sterilizations until the practice was banned in 1979. But in 2013, the Center for Investigative Journalism discovered that at least 150 female inmates in California had been sterilized without consent. (Read more about that, here.)

Go deeper