Tennessee Judge Sam Benningfield has rescinded his controversial order offering reduced sentences to prisoners who would undergo sterilization procedures.
“We are glad to have learned that (the policy) has been canceled,” said Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the diocese of Nashville. He also referred to the policy as “problematic.” “The Catholic position on birth control is well-known,” he told CNA July 28.
Benningfield had issued the order on May 15 which offered 30 days credit from jail time to men who would undergo a vasectomy or women who would receive a Nexplanon arm implant, which prevents pregnancies for up to four years. Benningfield serves in Sparta, Tennessee, about an hour and a half east of Nashville.
The July 26 order rescinding the previous order, signed by Benningfield and posted on the ACLU website, stated that “(t)hose inmates who have demonstrated to the court their desire to improve their situations and take serious and considered steps toward their rehabilitation by having the procedures or agreeing to have same will not be denied the credit. You will be awarded the 30 days jail credit promised whether you ultimately receive the procedures or not.”
County officials stated that since the program began, 32 women had received the implant and 38 men were awaiting the surgery, as of July 21. In a statement given to SpartaLive.com and published on July 21, Benningfield stated that his goal had been to help children whose parents were repeat offenders and prevent the conceptions of drug-addicted infants. He said the order “is in no way a eugenic program” and that all procedures were “reversible.” He also noted that “(n)o male under 21 may participate” and that there was a 30-day waiting period before the procedure.
“It’s unclear to me how the original policy as it was apparently implemented in this small Tennessee county was intended to help children,” Musacchio said. It is not clear how many, if any, underwent surgery.
The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the measure, calling it unconstitutional.