HealthBeat

HealthBeat

Tenn. inmates undergo vasectomies to shave off jail time

Inmates in one Tennessee county are having their sentences reduced in exchange for undergoing vasectomies or receiving long-term birth control.

Jail inmates in White County, Tenn., can receive 30 days off of their sentence if they undergo a birth control procedure. The judge who signed the order said it’s a way for inmates to take personal responsibility. The ACLU, however, says it’s unconstitutional.

Women who participate are given free birth control implants, which prevent pregnancy for up to four years. Men who participate are given a vasectomy, according to an article by News Channel 5 Network.

Since the program began in May, 32 women have gotten the implant and 38 men are waiting for vasectomies, according to the article.

The judge behind the order, Judge Sam Benningfield, told the news station he was trying to break the cycle of repeat offenders with drug-related charges who are unable to pay their child support.

“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,” he told the station.

“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 said.

The district attorney in the county says the program may be unethical and possibly illegal. And the ACLU blasted the program in a statement.

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

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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