Officials in White County, Tennessee, have given inmates the option of ending their jail sentence early if they voluntarily agree to have a vasectomy or birth control implant.
General Sessions Court Judge Sam Benningfield, who signed a standing order in May, said he made the decision to ensure that inmates would not be “burdened with children,” according to WTVF.
The program works like this: Both sexes can volunteer to participate, which is free of charge. Women are given a Nexplanon contraceptive implant, which works for up to four years, in their arm. The Tennessee Department of Health will provide vasectomies for men who volunteer for the program. Those who participate will receive 30 days of credit toward their jail time.
So far, 32 women have received the implant, while 38 men are waiting for a vasectomy, The Daily Beast reported.
Benningfield said his standing order is meant to help inmates.
“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 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.”
But others think the program is possibly illegal.
District Attorney Bryant Dunaway told the news station that Benningfield’s order was “concerning” to him, and that his office didn’t support the decision, adding, “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.”
The ACLU reportedly released a statement calling the program “unconstitutional:”
“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.”
County inmates are also being given two days’ worth of credit toward their jail time if they complete a state-run neonatal education program, the purpose of which is to teach inmates about the dangers of having a child while on drugs.
I would agree that there are plenty of people who shouldn’t make babies, but is this really the way to do it? Although this is voluntary, it smacks of eugenics to me.
Another big problem I have with this is that nothing is ‘free of charge’ – the taxpayers are already footing the bill for the prisoners, and now they also have to pay for their birth control.
The ACLU says it’s unconstitutional, and granted it just doesn’t seem right, but I don’t recall childbearing being one of our fundamental rights.
What are your thoughts on this practice?