Attorneys are accusing White County and several of its leaders of having run a “modern-day eugenics scheme.” They filed a federal lawsuit Thursday over a controversial program that offered reduced misdemeanor sentences to inmates who signed up for birth control implants or vasectomies.
The suit names, among others, the man who officially ordered the program in May, and recently terminated it in light of intense national scrutiny. Judge Sam Benningfield has said he introduced the program because he was tired of removing children from repeat offenders who appeared in his court.
But attorney Mario Williams says government officials should not intervene in the basic human right right to procreate. And says the program could only work by using what an inmate most wants against them — their freedom.
"You had to provide an incentive," Williams said. "No guy and almost no women would say, 'I’m in White County jail, let me get a vasectomy. Let me get a plant in my arm.'"
Williams says the main defendant in the case, however, is not the judge but White County sheriff Oddie Shoupe, who they believe “masterminded” the program.
The attorneys point to the fact that their client, Christel Ward, received the birth control implant in her arm ten days before the judge launched the program, and still got nothing in return.
"They told me they were going to give me 32 days off, they didn’t even give it to me," Ward said outside the federal courthouse in Nashville. "I want it out. They told me I couldn’t get it out unless I paid, and I can’t come up with $250 to get this out."
Ward says she has six children, a granddaughter and an elderly grandmother to take care of at home. She agreed to the implant so that she’d only spend three rather than four months away from them. The implant, unless removed, lasts three years.
Williams says the defense team will be filing several more lawsuits next week, which will include White County inmates who didn’t sign up for the birth control. Those inmates say they shouldn’t have received full sentences just because they didn’t participate in the program.
The sheriff’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.