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Criminal Justice Health

Judge Offers People Facing Jail Time Reduced Sentences If They Get Sterilized

A judge in Tennessee has come under fire for some of the jail sentences he has handed down. Judge Sam Benningfield, who sits on the bench in White County, has offered people who are facing jail time for drug related offenses, up to 30 days off their sentences if they agree to be sterilized.

The judge says he came up with the unusual sentencing plan, after seeing the increased amount of people in front of him facing drug charges. Benningfield said, “I’m trying to help these folks begin to think about taking responsibility for their life and giving them a leg up — you know, when they get out of jail — to perhaps rehabilitate themselves and not be burdened again with unwanted children and all that comes with that.”

He has offered inmates in the White County Jail a chance to reduce their sentences by up to 30 days, if men undergo a vasectomy or women get a Nexplanon implant. The inmates would receive the surgeries performed at no cost to them.

So far, 38 men have signed up to undergo a vasectomy and at least 24 women have already had the Nexplanon implant – a toothpick-sized implant that prevents pregnancy for up to three years.

Benningfield’s order has angered several people and organizations. The district attorney general for the county, Bryant Dunaway, said decisions surrounding long-term contraception “are personal in nature, and I think that’s just something the court system should not encourage or mandate.”

The executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union, Hedy Weinberg, blasted the judge’s order with the following 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.”

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