Nashville’s News Chanel Five reported yesterday of one Tennessee judge’s unusual method to reduce one’s jail sentence. White County Tennessee General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield entered a standing court order granting 30 days of jail credit to those serving jail sentences. The catch to getting the jail credit is to agree to have a vasectomy or the have a birth control device implanted.
It strikes me as an extreme abuse of judicial power. Judges in Tennessee determine the jail sentence if no plea bargain is entered into. The court holds the keys to the jail cell once a sentence is imposed. It puts the court in an unfair bargaining position. Everybody in jail wants out of jail. To force one to have themselves robbed of their ability to reproduce is a practice that should not be tolerated. To his credit, the local District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway agrees. Here is his statement from the report.
District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, who oversees prosecution of cases in White County is worried the program may be unethical and possibly illegal.
“It’s concerning to me, my office doesn’t support this order,” Dunaway 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,” he added.
The American Civil Liberties Union also took a position.
"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."
In Davidson County Tennessee, it is common to work out a probation violation case on the condition that the defendant will enter a drug or alcohol program and be released upon the condition that they complete the program. This is completely different than court sanctioned sterilization. While the court’s actions may be well intended, it is simply wrong. No Tennessee law sanctions this type of conduct by the courts to reduce jail time.
I suggest we watch this story and see how it develops.