female inmate
Some prosecutors have made forced sterilization a condition of plea agreements to reduce or eliminate prison time. Reuters

The district attorney in Nashville, Tennessee, recently ordered prosecutors to stop making sterilization part of a plea bargain. "The bottom line is the government can't be ordering a forced sterilization," Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk told the Associated Press in a story published Saturday.

Funk said a better alternative is to order people to stay away from children.

The most recent example of a court-ordered sterilization requirement in Tennessee came in the case of Jasmine Randers, 36, who suffers from depression and paranoia. The Nashville Tennessean reported Randers' 4-day-old daughter died during a bus trip to Nashville from West Memphis, Arkansas, where she gave birth at Crittenden Regional Hospital. At the time, Randers was on the lam from a treatment center in Minnesota, one of 20 hospitalizations for her mental illness, the Tennessean reported earlier this month.

Though no cause of death was established, Randers was charged with aggravated child neglect. She had boarded the bus without any bottles of formula because they were too heavy to carry, the Tennessean said.

Assistant Public Defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe told the Tennessean that Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren would not even discuss a plea deal unless Randers agreed to have her tubes tied. Harcombe went over his head to 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 currently is committed to a mental health facility in western Tennessee.

David LaBahn, president of the national organization the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said his organization urges prosecutors to look for alternatives to prison, and in child abuse cases, birth control often is a condition for probation.

But the concept of forced sterilization evokes a time in U.S. history when the mentally ill often were subjected to the procedure.

"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.

The AP cited cases in which sterilization was made a condition for eliminating or reducing prison time in West Virginia and Virginia. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed legislation preventing state prisons from forcing female inmates to undergo the procedure after an audit found some of the 150 sterilizations performed were done without inmate consent.