Yesterday the AP reported that prosecutors in Nashville, Tennessee “made sterilization of women part of plea negotiations at least four times in the past five years.” The cases all seemed to involve mistreatment or neglect of children and some involved seriously mentally ill defendants.

The article makes it clear that these are just the known cases and that this suggests “the practice may not be as rare as people think and may happen more often outside the public view and without the blessing of the court.”

The article goes on to cite examples outside of Tennessee, including cases from West Virginia and Virginia where defendants agreed to reduced prison time in exchange for undergoing sterilization operations—in cases that did not always involve children (one was a simple possession with intent to distribute marijuana).

This is yet another example of the danger of the extreme power prosecutors have in the plea bargaining process. One wouldn’t think that in 2015 anyone would need to be told that the state forcing sterilization operations in exchange for better plea deals is a problem.

As the public defender in one of the cases, Mary-Kathryn Harcombe noted, “Any time a woman is given a choice between prison and this surgery, that is inherently coercive…” I would also add it is disgraceful and contrary to the prosecutorial ethical duty to seek justice.

Hat tip to Sentencing Law and Policy for posting this story.

Cyntha Alkon is an Associate Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Prior to joining academia, she was a criminal defense lawyer and worked in rule of law development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia focusing on criminal justice reform issues. She is a contributor of ADR Prof Blog.