US prisoners
Prisoners in Tennessee have a difficult choice to make Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Prisoners in Tennessee have been offered the chance to get 30 days taken off their sentences. All they have to do is have a vasectomy, rendering them unable to have children.

The controversial initiative is open to all male inmates at White County jails. Women prisoners have been presented with a similar, slightly less daunting offer: an arm implant that acts as a three-year contraceptive.

Ex-offenders will be better positioned to participate in society and break the cycle of recidivism if they take part in the scheme, authorities believe.

"I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, not to be burdened with children," Judge Sam Benningfield told NewsChannel5.

Some 32 women and 38 men have already signed up to the program since it opened on 15 May. "This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves," Benningfield added.

The women will receive Nexplanon, the most common implant contraceptive currently used in the US and the UK. As for the men, it's the dreaded "snip", which severs the tubes that carry semen from the testes to the penis. The operation can sometimes be reversed but this by no means guaranteed.

Benningfield acknowledged that the trade-off between 30 days of freedom and a lifetime of infertility might be a hard sell. "I understand it won't be entirely successful," he said. "But if you reach two or three people, maybe that's two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win-win."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) did not share the judge's point of view. It argued that the offer is "unconstitutional".

"Such a choice violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU Tennessee executive director.

"Judges play an important role in our community – overseeing individuals' childbearing capacity should not be part of that role," she added.

World Vasectomy Day
A non-offender undergoes a vasectomy