A CONTROVERSIAL new programme, implemented for prison inmates, is raising questions.
The policy, which has only been in place since May, offers to wipe 30 days off a sentence if the inmate submits to vasectomy or implantation of a birth control device.
So far 38 male inmates and 32 female inmates have agreed to the procedures. Since the story broke, many have voiced concern with the unusual bargaining chip, and have called the voluntary programme unethical and racist.
Judge Sam Benningfield, who signed a standing order for the programme, said in a statement responding to the outrage: “I hope to encourage [inmates] to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, to not to be burdened with children. This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.”
The procedures are free and conducted by the Tennessee Department of Health. Female inmates receive a Nexplanon implant in their arm, which provides up to three years of continuous birth control. The implant, however, has also has been linked to a number of side effects, including depression, back pain, and liver disease. The male inmates that signed up for the same programme would undergo a much more permanent procedure, opting to sign up for a vasectomy in exchange for their reduced sentence.
People have expressed shock over sterilisation in exchange for shorter sentences. The executive director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union Hedy Weinberg responded to the news, calling the arrangement “unconstitutional.”
Weinberg also emphasised that 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.”
While disturbing, these policies are far from the first of their kind; eugenic programmes have been systematically implemented countless times in the history of the US against those who were deemed a “liability” to society, mostly under “legal” means.
According to scientific records, more than a third of women in the US territory of Puerto Rico were sterilised from the 1930s to the 1970s as a result of a partnership between the US government, Puerto Rican lawmakers and medical officials.
This historical pattern falls in line with the trajectory of medical experimentation that often targeted mostly poor, mentally ill people of colour.
Numbers show that Black and Latin individuals make up a majority of prison population numbers, and consequently are also likely to make up a large percentage of the people who “volunteer” for these sterilisation procedures in Tennessee prisons.
It raises valid concerns about the reasoning behind approving such an unusual method. Nevertheless, the programme continues and the inmates are faced with the decision that could have a long-term impact on their reproductive rights.