Monday, October 23, 2017
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Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville
Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn.

Judge nixes plan to trade jail time for sterilization

A Tennessee county judge rescinded a controversial offer to reduce jail time for prisoners who agreed to undergo sterilization procedures or implant long-acting birth control.

Judge Sam Benningfield introduced the plan in May. Male prisoners were offered free vasectomies and female prisoners were offered free Nexplanon implants, a device which prevents pregnancy for up to four years, in exchange for 30 days of credit toward their jail time.

Benningfield said his goal was to encourage personal responsibility and to give prisoners a chance, “when they do get out, not to be burdened again with additional children.”

But last Wednesday, Benningfield filed an order rescinding the previous order.

“I did not change my mind,” Benningfield said in a statement. Instead, he said he was forced to cancel the plan because the health department “succumbed to the pressure and withdrew their offer of services.” Benningfield said the department had previously agreed to perform the surgeries and implants free of charge for inmates.

The 38 men and 32 women who signed up for the plan will still get the jail credit, Benningfield said.

Critics of the plan spanned the political spectrum.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee called the plan unconstitutional because it violated “the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity.”

“Reduced prison time is a potent bribe,” said Steven Mosher, president of the pro-family organization Population Research Institute (PRI). Not knowing the plan had already been canceled, Mosher issued a statement last Thursday calling on Benningfield to rescind the offer, asking, “How many prisoners will try and buy their freedom by allowing the state to chemically or surgically sterilize them?”

PRI said the plan was “eerily reminiscent of eugenic sterilization statutes.”

But Benningfield maintained he was just trying to help children.

“I wasn’t on a crusade,” Benningfield told the Times Free Press last Thursday. “I don’t have a ‘mission.’ I thought I could help a few folks, get them thinking and primarily help children.”

— by Kiley Crossland

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