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Inmates in a Tennessee county jail given reduced time for undergoing birth control procedures

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Inmates in White County, Tennessee, are receiving reduced jail time if they agree to have a vasectomy or get a birth control implant. The procedures are free of charge to the inmate and provided by the Tennessee Department of Health. (Image source: WTVF-TV screenshot)

Inmates in White County, Tennessee, are receiving reduced jail time if they agree to have a vasectomy or get a birth control implant, according to WTVF-TV.

In May, General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield signed a standing order that reduces the sentences by 30 days for those who agree to undergo the birth control procedures.

County officials told WTVF that since the program began, 32 women have received a Nexplanon implant, which can prevent pregnancies for up to four years. Thirty-eight men are awaiting vasectomies.

The procedures are free of charge to the inmate and provided by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Benningfield told WTVF that he wants to break a cycle of “repeat offenders” in his courtroom who can’t afford 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,” Benningfield said. "This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves."

Benningfield said he implemented the program after discussions 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,” he said. “I see it as a win, win.”

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, who oversees prosecution of cases in White County, told WTVF the program is unethical and potentially illegal.

“It’s concerning to me, my office doesn’t support this order,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway said birth control procedures are “personal in nature” and the court system should not “encourage or mandate” those decisions.

“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 said.

In a statement to WTVF, a spokesperson for the ACLU said the program is 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.

Critics likened the program to eugenics:

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