Should Government-Enforced Sterilization Be Used as a Bargaining Chip?

By Danica Lo

Last week, the Tennessean reported on the startling case of Jasmine Randers, who'd suffered from clinical depression and paranoia all her life and wound up in court following the mysterious death of her four-day-old daughter, Issabelle.

"Issabelle's death left Randers in jail facing charges," the paper reports. And, according to the prosecutor's request to Randers' attorneys, "If Randers wanted to avoid 15 years in prison...Randers would have to agree to a condition. Sterilization."

Though the prosecutor was later removed from the case by District Attorney Glenn Funk—"I have let my office know that that is not an appropriate condition of a plea," Funk said. "It is now policy that sterilization will never be a condition of deal-making in the district attorney's office."—Randers' case brings the light the shocking legal practice of making enforced sterilization part of court proceedings and the bargaining process.

According to a report by the Associated Press, in Nashville alone, "prosecutors have made sterilization of women part of the plea negotiations at least four times in the past five years."

Eugenics (forced sterilization) has a long, sordid history in the United States—minorities, women of color, learning-disabled, and psychiatric-ward patients were involuntarily, and often unknowingly, subjected to the procedure until the mid- to late 20th century. North Carolina, for example, sterilized 7,600 people "deemed socially or mentally unfit" between 1929 and 1974.

"The history of sterilization in this country is that it is applied to the most despised people—criminals and the people we're most afraid of, the mentally ill—and the one thing that these two groups usually share is that they are the most poor. That is what we've done in the past, and that's a good reason not to do it now," Georgia State University law professor Paul Lombardo told the AP.

What do you think? Are you surprised that fertility is on the table when it comes to convictions and sentencing? Should sterilization ever be used as a bargaining chip in legal proceedings?

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