A Tennessee judge didn’t want inmates reproducing once they got out of jail, so he offered reduced sentences to those who got vasectomies or birth control implants.
White County judge Sam Benningfield was reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct on Nov. 15 for acting “in a way that threatened public confidence in the judicial system.”
Benningfield issued an order in May that allowed male inmates who underwent vasectomies and female inmates who received a birth control implant to get a 30-day jail credit.
According to the order, Benningfield’s initial goal was to prevent the birth of substance addicted babies. He also said he wanted to reduce the number of repeat offenders in his courtroom that couldn't afford child support.
The board, acknowledging the worthiness of the goal, still chastised the judge’s methods.
“…you now realize that this order could unduly coerce inmates into undergoing a surgical procedure which would cause at least a temporary sterilization, and it was therefore improper,” the reprimand letter stated.
35 women and 42 men participated in this practice. Benningfield rescinded the order in July after public outcry.
‘Modern day eugenics scheme’
Complaints and lawsuits filed in once the public found out about Benningfield’s practice, some accusing the judge and county sheriff Oddie Shoupe of a “modern day eugenics scheme.”
“So Shoupe, wishing to reach his Eugenics goal, chose to offer the one thing that means the most to a human being who is incarcerated behind bars: Freedom,” stated a federal lawsuit against the duo. “Offering freedom in exchange for a vasectomy is not only unnecessary — if the goal is to obtain true volunary consent — it is also unconstitutional.”
Alex Friedmann, the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center (and a former inmate himself) filed a complaint as well.
“Prisoners are a vulnerable population who are especially susceptible to such coercive incentives because they want to return to their families and are at risk of losing their jobs and housing the longer they are incarcerated,” Friedmann said.
The reprimand does not include any impact on Benningfield's standing as a judge.