The country’s dark history of forced sterilization has been brought to light in the present day, by a Virginia court who ordered a man to get a vasectomy or spend five years in prison.

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Jessie Lee Herald, 27, has fathered seven children with six women, and although none of the charges against him involve a sexual offense, Shenandoah County assistant prosecutor Ilona White has asked Herald to get a vasectomy as part of a plea deal.  The vasectomy would reduce his prison term by up to five years.

White claims that her motive behind the request was to prevent him from fathering any more children he couldn’t take care of, saying “He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out.”


Despite Herald’s willingness to sign the papers, the agreement brings to mind the sterilizations carried out in Virginia and other states during the 20th century under the discredited eugenics programs, one University of Virginia law professor says.

“This takes on the appearance of social engineering,” argues Steve Benjamin, past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Under Virginia’s former eugenics program, nearly 8,000 people deemed genetically inferior or deficient were forcibly sterilized in the 1920s to about 1970.  Dozens of other states had eugenics programs of their own, but the country abandoned them after World War II, when forced sterilizations became closely associated with Nazi Germany’s racial purity efforts.

Collectively, the movement resulted in the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people, primarily the mentally disables, minorities, and those of lower socioeconomic statuses.

Both Herald’s attorney, Charles Ramsey, and the White, the prosecutor, dispute any suggestions that the plea deal is in any way similar to eugenics.

Ramsey stated he “understood the comparison” but “doesn’t think it’s fair,” calling it “exaggerated.”

Meanwhile, Herald was sentenced to one year and eight months in prison for child endangerment, hit and run, and driving on a suspended license.  His three year old son was with him when the crash occurred.

Once Herald is released from his year and eight months in prison, the plea deal required him to undergo the vasectomy within a year of his release, and prohibits him from having the vasectomy reversed while he’s on probation.  He will also have to pay for the procedure, which may run him anywhere from a few hundred bucks to over $1000.

Benjamin still contests the procedure being used a plea, saying it simply should not be a factor in plea negotiations.

“Sentencing conditions are designed to prevent future criminal behavior.  Fathering children is not criminal behavior,” he argued.

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