Rolling Out

Tennessee inmates who get sterilized receive time off sentence

jail cell
Photo credit: Ana Aguirre Perez / Shutterstock.com

Judge Sam Benningfield presides over the court in White County,  Tennessee and he began to notice a reoccurring problem. There was a growing number of inmates who were repeat drug offenders and drug users who were having children and unable to pay child support. According to an ABC 15 report, Judge Benningfield came up with a novel idea.


He issued a standing order which states that inmates in the county jail who agree to get a free vasectomy will have 30 days removed from their sentence. Benningfield is not leaving out the female inmates in the standing order and they are also eligible for 30 days off of their sentence if they choose to have the birth control drug Nexplanon, implanted in their arm. The implant will prevent pregnancies for up to four years; however, the vasectomies may be permanent for men.


So far, County officials are claiming that 32 women have received the birth control implant and 38 men are waiting to receive a free vasectomy. Benningfield put the program in place on May 15, 2017, with the reasoning that repeat drug offenders keep winding up in jail and don’t pay child support. Therefore, if they don’t have children, they couldn’t end up in the situation. Benningfield was quoted as stating, “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.”

The program is controversial and White County District Attorney Bryant Dunaway has a serious issue with the standing order. Dunaway has indicated that he feels the program might be unethical and possibly illegal and is quoted as stating, “It’s concerning to me, my office doesn’t support this order… 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 program was brought to the attention of The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that issued the following statement: “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.”

According to the website Suburban Stats.org, White County has a population of a little over 25K, with an estimated Black population of close to 500 people. Within the county area is the city of Sparta, Tennessee, which has a lot of property crimes that include burglaries and car thefts. The area is well known for its pride of Confederate history and was the home of an infamous Confederate guerrilla fighter named Champ Ferguson. When Ferguson was captured by the Union army, he was executed because of the barbarity of his war crimes.

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