Controversial Program Allows Tennessee Inmates To Get Out Of Jail Early If They Agree To A Vasectomy

Tennessee inmates can trade vasectomies for early release.

Inmates in White County, Tennessee, have the option of shaving 30 days off of their jail sentence — so long as they are willing to undergo a vasectomy to prevent being “burdened with children” upon their release. The controversial program implemented by General Sessions Court Judge Sam Benningfield in May has now made national headlines, with some calling it illegal while the judge sings its accolades.

As Fox News reports, the inmate sterilization program is wholly voluntary and open to inmates of both genders. While male inmates can choose to agree to a voluntary vasectomy, female inmates can opt for the four-year Nexplanon contraceptive implant, both of which are provided by the Tennessee Department of Health. In exchange for choosing a free vasectomy or contraceptive device, the Tennessee inmates will get 30 days of credit towards their sentence.

Since Judge Benningfield signed his order back in May, 38 men have volunteered (but are still waiting) for a vasectomy, while 32 women have signed up for and received their Nexplanon implant.

According to the judge, his controversial program is intended to help at-risk inmates, not compromise their lives or rights in any way. Benningfield claims that by not being “burdened” with children due to their vasectomies, the Tennessee inmates will have the chance to “make something of themselves.”

Judge Benningfield added that he believes that the children who will not be born because of the Tennessee inmate vasectomy program will also benefit from its implementation — or at least two or three of them may. When it comes to inmates who choose voluntary sterilization or long-term contraceptive implants, the judge considers the controversial program “a win-win.”

“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. 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.”

Despite the judge’s enthusiasm and the dozens of inmate volunteers who have already taken advantage of the Tennessee program, some others are worried about the legality of exchanging vasectomies for reduced jail time.

One who has publicly expressed his doubts about the legality of the program is District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, who called the vasectomy order “concerning.” According to Dunaway, he is concerned about young inmates who don’t think their vasectomies through and end up with the decision haunting them for the rest of their lives.

“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.”

District Attorney Dunaway isn’t the only one to express apprehension regarding the controversial program allowing Tennessee inmates to trade vasectomies for 30 days off of their sentence. According to the ACLU, the program is “unconstitutional” and infringes on the constitutional right to bodily autonomy, particularly because inmates are choosing between jail or “coerced contraception or sterilization.”

“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.”

The ACLU also added that interfering in reproductive decisions is not a judge’s place.

To the credit of the Tennessee county, volunteering for vasectomies isn’t the only way for inmates to cut a little time off of their jail sentence. Completing a program to teach inmates about the dangers of having a child while on drugs is also good for two days off of a jail stay. Unlike the vasectomies and contraceptive implants, however, the education program cannot prevent the Tennessee inmates from procreating.

[Featured Image by sakhorn/Shutterstock]