After a furious national uproar in response to an inmate sterilization program instituted by White County General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, in late July of this year, Judge Benningfield publicly announced that he had formally rescinded his previous standing order instituting the sterilization program, which had been compared to eugenics. Although dozens of inmates had been surgically sterilized by the time the order was “rescinded,” news coverage of the scandal subsided immediately, permitting the fallout from the sterilization program to continue virtually uncovered.
In a recent filing, however, Judge Benningfield and White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe—who are currently being sued over the sterilization program—acknowledged that the order purporting to rescind the program actually “did not renege on the offer of a 30-day reduction in the jail sentence[s]” of inmates who agreed to be sterilized after all. This concession confirms concerns that had been raised by the attorney for the inmates who have sued over the program, whose lawsuit alleged that:
“Despite claiming to be an ‘Order Rescinding [his May 15, 2017] Standing Order,’ however, Defendant Benningfield’s July 26, 2017 Supplemental Order states unequivocally that inmates who fail to ‘demonstrate to the court their desire to improve their situations and take serious and considered steps toward their rehabilitation by having the [specified long-term surgical sterilization] procedures or agreeing to have same’ will still be incarcerated for 30 days longer than similarly situated inmates who do acquiesce to surgical sterilization.”
Judge Benningfield and Sheriff Shoupe, who have both been named as defendants in the lawsuit over the sterilization program, have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit against them. In response to their concession that the inmate sterilization offer is still active, however, on Monday, the Plaintiffs sought an immediate declaratory judgment that Judge Benningfield’s ongoing sterilization program is unconstitutional. “This program is outrageous, it is morally indefensible, and it’s illegal,” attorney Daniel Horwitz, who is representing the inmates, stated at the outset of the lawsuit. Selected documents from the case are available below:
Selected Case Documents:
Selected Media Coverage:
-The Washington Post: Tennessee judge reprimanded for offering reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization