Controversy Over Tenn. County Reducing Jail Time for Getting Birth Control

 

There's controversy over a new program in White County, Tennessee, that reduces inmates' jail sentences by 30 days if they undergo a birth control procedure. Female inmates who volunteer for the program get an arm implant that provides up to three years of continuous birth control, while male inmate volunteers get a vasectomy, meaning that for men it's a permanent procedure. The procedures are free, and so far 32 women and 38 men have volunteered.

General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, who signed an order in May enforcing the program, told local station WTVF, "I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, 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."

But the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the program, with the Tennessee's branch's executive director, Hedy Weinberg, saying, "Offering a so-called 'choice' between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional." District Attorney Bryant Dunaway is also opposed to the program and has told his staff not to make any arrangements involving it. He told WTVF, "Those decisions are personal in nature and I think that's just something the court system should not encourage or mandate."

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