As the Trump regime begins to spin out of control, a widening rift is opening between Trump and the nation’s top law enforcement officials. This week, Trump has publicly criticized his attorney general and spoken out against the long-standing structure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. With growing discord at the federal level, it is unfortunate that state and local officials are feeling emboldened to act beyond the typical rules of law.
During an afternoon that witnessed a media frenzy over the possible release of O.J. Simpson from a Nevada prison, other more nefarious machinations were happening in courtrooms across America. If only the main stream media paid as much attention to an average mother’s or father’s parole hearing as they did to a yesteryear celebrity, there might be less abuse in the American penal system and more success.
One demonstration of the draconian abuses that still exist in America originated from a Tennessee detention facility on Thursday. At the White County Jail, prisoners are being given a choice at sentencing: participate in a sterilization program or expect to complete their term of incarceration in full.
The last time the terms sterilization and prisons were used in the same context, a man named Adolf Hitler was trying to cleanse the world.
General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield approved the jail program in May. The announcement of trading sentence time for sterilization outraged civil rights groups and caused concern among local officials. Benningfield justified the eugenics styled program by saying he hopes it will “encourage prisoners to take personal responsibility…to not be burdened with children.” Not even the local district attorney agrees with the judge’s ill-conceived plan.
A statement released by the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the sterilization trade-off a violation of the fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The ACLU went on to condemn the judge’s interference in a person’s childbearing choices.
Beyond the judicial considerations of the White County Jail program, is the personal pressure it places on individual standing before the bench. Plea bargains are the blight on the fair administration of justice in courtrooms across America. Over 90% of all criminal cases prosecuted in state and federal courts are resolved by plea bargains.
The extensive use of plea bargains detracts from the fact-finding trial by jury system and is one of the most detrimental Supreme Court rulings of the past century. Prosecutors achieve high-leveraged bargaining positions by charging the accused with as many severe crimes as possible — often resulting in pages-long indictments for even minor offenses. The prospect of maximum sentences, mandatory minimums, fines, and other considerations frequently overburden the will of the accused in deciding to go to trial.
The last thing any person facing jail or prison time needs is an added decision or enticement to gain freedom. Sterilization is an emotional and unfair bargaining chip that no honorable judge should be willing to consider in court.
Judge Benningfield’s misconception that sterilization will encourage personal responsibility is a sign of low-level reasoning unbecoming of the bench. Personal responsibility comes from being able to make choices that lead to success. Asking prisoners to submit to sterilization in the name of personal responsibility is like asking a repeat drunk driver to sell his car to be responsible. Neither solution addresses the underlying problems.
The United States has a long and sordid history vis-à-vis sterilization programs. When Hitler sought a model for his early eugenics policies, he looked across the Atlantic to a country that, at one time in its early history, sterilized the infirm, lower classes, and intellectually challenged among others. Any modern revival of the practice, no matter how far removed from 1920s forced sterilizations, should be condemned — not only for its civil and constitutional rights violations, but also for the mere history of where eugenics can lead.
When a judge approves such a drastic departure from acceptable judicial norms and advocates for sterilization of criminals — voluntary or otherwise — his judicial impartiality and ability to hold the bench must be questioned and corrected. With the nation’s leadership faltering in moral value and public policy, it is incumbent that our local and state institutions remain steadfast and strong to the Constitution as the states may soon be all we have to rely on.