Tennessee Judge: Want 30 Days Off Your Sentence? Get Sterilized

In her highly acclaimed 2010 book The New Jim Crow, civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues the embarrassing “Jim Crow” laws that brought us legalized racial segregation, school segregation, poll taxes, prohibitions on inter-racial marriage, and a whole slue of other embarrassing racially motivated legislation did not end with President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 signing of the Civil Rights Act.

Jim Crow is thriving through America’s criminal justice system that profits from disproportionately incarcerating minorities. Instead of fire hoses, fines; instead of segregated lunch counters, solitary confinement; instead of poll taxes, voter suppression; instead of chain gangs, mandatory minimum sentences for minor offenses.

Our institutionalized racism is more insidious because it is less overt.

But a Tennessee judge has decided to be a little creative with prisoners convicted of drug offenses: Sterilization.

Judge Sam Benningfield is willing to barter 30 days off drug offenders’ sentences for their promise to undergo vasectomies or long-term contraception.

Over 70 inmates have supposedly “agreed” to this, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights organizations rush to defend them.

According an ACLU press release:

“A judge in White County, Tennessee has issued a standing order offering a 30-day reduction in jail time to male inmates who get vasectomies and female inmates who get a Nexplanon implant in their arms. “

Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director, states in the release:

“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.”

Judge Benningfield reported to CBS news:

“I’m trying to help these folks begin to think about taking responsibility for their life and giving them a leg up — you know, when they get out of jail — to perhaps rehabilitate themselves and not be burdened again with unwanted children and all that comes with that.”

Right… (More after the jump.)

This is not the first example from history “helping folks take responsibility.”

For centuries, eugenics programs have operated under the auspices of breeding a “better” human.

We even tried it here.

Tens of thousands of people of color, low-income, and disabled Americans across 32 states were forcibly sterilized in the middle twentieth century.

According to Andrea Estrada of the University of California at Santa Barbara:

“Beginning in 1909 and continuing for 70 years, California led the country in the number of sterilization procedures performed on men and women, often without their full knowledge and consent. Approximately 20,000 sterilizations took place in state institutions, comprising one-third of the total number performed in the 32 states where such action was legal.”

The American eugenics program was so controversial, it inspired a certain obscure German politician in the 1930s, who said:

“There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

You probably don’t need me telling you who said that, but I’ll give you a clue: his name rhymes with Shmaydolph Litler.

The very idea an American judge finds this at all logical and humane is appalling.

Hell, anyone who would find this at all remotely plausible should agree to undergo the treatment himself and report back how it’s going.

Just a hunch here, but I’m willing to bet Judge Sam Benningfield is a Republican.

Update, though!

Judge Sam Bennington has apparently reversed his original decision. He no longer thinks this is a fabulous idea.

I’ll bet there are some out there who still do, though.

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