A judge in Tennessee is making national headlines over a new policy he recently approved. If an inmate in county prison wants to take 30 days off their incarceration, men can get a vasectomy, and women can have a birth control device implanted.
The judge was quick to point out that this is not some form of eugenics. Rather, he contends that it's a way to help inmates more easily reintegrate into society after release. He stated that the hope is to encourage inmates to take "personal responsibility" and that "not being burdened with children" would benefit former inmates after their release. Previously, this same judge instituted a policy that would cut two days off a jail term if an inmate took a course on why it's bad to use drugs around children.
Is This Legal?
The legality of this program is up in the air. On the one hand, the program is entirely optional. But on the other hand, the choice being presented is one that doesn't sit well with the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy. Not surprisingly, civil rights groups are up in arms about this program. Also the Tennessee Department of Health does not support the program; they explained that they do not support any program that could compel an inmate "to seek a particular health services."
The program started on May 15, 2017. It was initially thought up to only target women who the judge believed were at a higher risk of having drug-addicted babies, but in order to avoid discrimination, the program was made available to men as well. Since starting, over 30 women have received the free birth control implant, and nearly the same amount of men signed up for the vasectomy surgery. Because of the more permanent nature of the vasectomy procedure, the judge has limited the availability to men over 21 years old. Additionally, men must wait 30 days before the procedure can be done.
Like the birth control devices for women, the vasectomies will be performed free of charge for those who elect to get one.