Inmates in White County, Tennessee have been given credit for their jail time if they voluntarily agree to have a vasectomy or birth control implant, a popular new program that is being called “unconstitutional” by the ACLU.
On May 15, 2017 General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield signed a standing order that allows inmates to receive 30 days credit toward jail time if they undergo a birth control procedure.
Women who volunteer to participate in the program are given a free Nexplanon implant in their arm, the implant helps prevent pregnancies for up to four years. Men who volunteer to participate are given a vasectomy, free of charge, by the Tennessee Department of Health.
County officials said that since the program began a few months ago 32 women have gotten the Nexplananon implant and 38 men were waiting to have the vasectomy procedure performed.
Judge Benningfield told Nashville-based WTVF that he was trying to break a vicious cycle of repeat offenders who constantly come into his courtroom on drug related charges, subsequently can’t afford child support and have trouble finding jobs.
“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,” Judge Benningfield said in an interview.
First elected in 1998, Judge Benningfield decided to implement the program after speaking with officials at the Tennessee Department of Health.
“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 added.
Inmates in the White County jail were also given two days credit toward their jail sentence if they complete a State of Tennessee, Department of Health Neonatal Syndrome Education Program. The class aimed to educate those who are incarcerated about the dangers of having children while under the influence of drugs.
“Hopefully while they’re staying here we rehabilitate them so they never come back,” the judge said.
District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, who oversees prosecution of cases in White County said he is worried the program may be unethical and possibly illegal.
“It’s concerning to me, my office doesn’t support this order,” Dunaway said.
“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 added.
On Wednesday, the ACLU released this statement on the program:
"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."