Something surprising about a White County General Sessions Court judge’s order permitting reduced jail time for convicts who submit to vasectomies or long-term female contraception is that it’s still acceptable to some Americans.

That sterilization is wrong was announced by a newly-appointed administrator of the insane asylum at Lynchburg, Va. in 1979. Then, as a radio newsman, I quoted Lynchburg residents explaining “welfare queens” wouldn’t have more children “on the dole” after sterilization in the asylum where they were put because they went crazy when their children were taken into state care. The mothers were “cured” in the asylum so they got their kids back.

Jim Crow laws were in effect when sterilization was a budget-cutting measure in Virginia. In Sparta, Tenn., White County Judge Sam Benningfield says his standing order combats the opioid epidemic by making convicts think about the effect of drug abuse on child rearing.

Differences between then and now don’t matter. Surgery under duress is wrong. It’s at least questionable. Benningfield should know. Juries can discount testimony from witnesses who cut a deal for testimony against a co-defendant.

And sterilization is a bad deal for convicts serving long terms. Terms would be cut 30 days However, minor drug sentences can be 90-days, or a year of probation. Violating probation puts convicts back in jail where, presumably, much of the time is consumed by alleged medical treatments. Tennessee’s sentencing guidelines need treatment. Jailers see no logic in standardized sentencing, according to one I spoke with last week. Someone serving a 2-year term wouldn’t take the Benningfield deal, nor would a lifer.

Fortunately, the Tennessee Department of Health — Benningfield’s recommended surgeons — won’t sterilize men or implant Nexplanon in women.

Those seeing value in Benningfield’s offer might also be those opposing activist judges, saying they shouldn’t make law with rulings. Another rural judge got slapped down for such activism in Georgia near Macon in the early 1970s.

Again, I was a radio newsman. The story: banishment. A judge was ordering defendants out of the county; don’t come back. They went to the next county where the Golden Rule was perverted. Surrounding county judges banished defendants, mostly drunks and other ne’er-do-wells, until a higher power intervened. Suddenly, Griffin, Ga. police were taking the town drunk to a treatment house where they could sleep it off. “He’s not drunk. He’s just sick,” officers said.

Mental health treatment is a better solution, but vasectomies or long-term female contraception is just wrong.


Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...

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