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November 21, 2017

Tennessee judge formally reprimanded for offering reduced jail time for defendants agreeing to vasectomy or birth control implant

I almost did not believe the story from earlier this year, blogged here, about a Tennessee judge giving 30 days credit off imposed jail time if an inmate were to voluntarily agree to have a vasectomy or birth control implant. But the tale was true, and this new Washington Post piece reports on the latest chapters of this remarkable local imprisonment tale:

When Judge Sam Benningfield of White County, Tenn., offered to shave off jail time for inmates who volunteered for sterilization, a chorus of attorneys, advocates and public officials reacted with horror.

Benningfield said his goal was to break a “vicious cycle” of repeat drug offenders with children. But many argued that the proposal, outlined in a May order, was nothing short of eugenics. Not to mention it seemed unconstitutional on its face. Civil rights lawyers brought legal actions and a local prosecutor told his staff to avoid the judge’s program at all costs.

Now, after the wave of backlash and amid multiple lawsuits, state judicial regulators have formally reprimanded Benningfield for promising 30-day sentence reductions to inmates who agreed to receive vasectomies or birth control implants.

In a letter filed Monday, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity and propriety. “You have acknowledged that even though you were trying to accomplish a worthy goal in preventing the birth of substance addicted babies,” the board wrote, “you now realize that this order could unduly coerce inmates into undergoing a surgical procedure which would cause at least a temporary sterilization, and it was therefore improper.”...

The judicial board’s letter says the program is no longer available to any inmate and that Benningfield ran afoul of rules requiring judges to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence.” It noted that Benningfield didn’t object to the reprimand. The letter also reprimanded Benningfield for threatening to end an unrelated house arrest program if a defense attorney refused to withdraw a valid objection regarding a client’s probation....

Several inmates who were jailed when the orders were in effect sued the judge and White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe, claiming their constitutional rights were violated. The judge and the sheriff have denied liability.

Daniel Horwitz, who represents a group of male inmates, said the judicial board should have gone further than reprimanding Benningfield and instead should have recommended he be removed from the bench. “A public reprimand is serious, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing short of removal is acceptable,” Horwitz told The Post....

Horwitz filed court papers in September on behalf of three male inmates, who called Benningfield’s program “both illegal and profoundly coercive.”  Two of the plaintiffs declined the offer for vasectomies in exchange for a sentence reduction. Another plaintiff agreed to the procedure in hopes of being released in time to watch the birth of his first grandchild. He enrolled in the judge’s early release program but didn’t receive the reduction.

Dozens of their fellow inmates, male and female, agreed to undergo birth control procedures, which can be irreversible in some cases.  Horwitz’s lawsuit describes one female White County inmate who received a hormonal birth control implant and later tried to cut it out of her arm with a razor blade.  She is not listed as a plaintiff....

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, whose district includes White County and Benningfield’s court, was among those who criticized the sterilization program. Dunaway, who vowed during his election campaign to crack down on repeat offenders, told NewsChannel 5 in July that he had instructed his staff not to take part in Benningfield’s order “in any way.”

“Those decisions are personal in nature,” he said, “and I think that’s just something that the court system should not encourage nor mandate.”

Prior related post:

November 21, 2017 at 10:38 AM | Permalink

Comments

U. S. has had such cases in the past

Posted by: Docile the Kind Soul | Nov 21, 2017 10:55:20 PM

What's wrong with having less "baby mama's" from non productive check seekers?

Posted by: Ddhb | Nov 21, 2017 11:09:14 PM

The criminal cult enterprise does not want to slow the spawning of criminals, committing 175 felonies a year from age 3 to 75.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 22, 2017 9:43:12 PM

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