POLITICS
07/20/2017 04:58 pm ET

Tennessee County Offers Inmates Shorter Sentences If They Get A Vasectomy

The ACLU says the program is unconstitutional.

NEW YORK― A jail in White County, Tennessee, is offering reduced sentences to inmates who agree to a vasectomy or birth control implant, ABC 15 reported Wednesday.

Inmates who volunteer are rewarded with 30 days less jail time under an order signed in May by Judge Sam Benningfield. The judge told ABC 15 he hopes the procedures, provided for free by the Tennessee Department of Health, will reduce the number of repeat offenders who can’t afford child support.

So far, 32 women have gotten the implant, and 38 men are waiting to have their vasectomies.

“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 said. “This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.” 

White County District Attorney Bryant Dunaway said he does not support the program, describing it as unethical and possibly illegal. “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,” he said.

Similar programs have run into legal troubles before. California banned the coercive sterilization of inmates in 2014 after investigative reports revealed 39 women in the state had been illegally sterilized in prison without proper consent.

“Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent is unacceptable and violates our most basic human rights,” said California state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who authored the legislation to end the practice.

In Tennessee, the inmates are voluntarily undergoing the procedure ― but the American Civil Liberties Union said the program still violates the Constitution. 

“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” the group 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.”

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