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Tenn. Inmates Can Get a Vasectomy to Shorten Their Jail Sentences

ACLU calls the program 'unconstitutional'

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Inmates in a Tennessee county can get time off their sentences for having a vasectomy or birth control implant, a policy that the American Civil Liberties Union calls "unconstitutional."

General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield signed a standing order in May to give prisoners in the White County, Tenn. jail 30 days credit on their sentence if they undergo one of the procedures, NewsChannel 5 reports.

Women who participate are given Nexplanon birth control implant in their arm, which prevents pregnancy for up to four years. Men are given a vasectomy, also free, by the Tennessee Department of Health.

Judge Benningfield told NewsChannel 5 that the program was meant to encourage prisoners not to be "burdened with children" so they can "take personal responsibility."

"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," he said.

"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.

Inmates could also get two days off their sentence for completing a Neonatal Syndrome Education Program, which aims to educate would-be parents about the dangers of having children while on drugs.

Some have been openly critical of the program, however, with District Attorney Brian Dunway saying it may be "unethical and possibly illegal."

"It's concerning to me, my office doesn't support this order," he 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."

The policy has been condemned by the ACLU, which said it was explicitly unconstitutional.

"Offering a so-called ‘choice' between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional," an ACLU statement read. "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," the statement read.

So far, 32 women and 38 men have opted to take part in the program.