Former Drug Addict Guilty of Cashing a Fake Check Gets Sterilized at the Suggestion of a Judge

Image: Flickr
Image: Flickr

The Washington Post reports that a judge in an Oklahoma City courtroom recommended that Summer Thyme Creel, a mother of seven who pled guilty to writing bad checks, undergo a voluntary sterilization—a suggestion that Creel eventually took to heart.

According to the paper, Creel pled guilty to making and cashing a counterfeit check in January 2017; her sentencing hearings were postponed because, according to court records, Creel was in jail for testing positive for drugs. When the judge in her case, Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot, observed that she used both meth and crack, he made an overreaching recommendation:

“It appears highly likely,” Friot wrote, “that some of Ms. Creel’s children were conceived, carried and born while Ms. Creel was a habitual user of these illicit substances.” He noted that she had relinquished custody of six of her seven children in 2012, with the seventh born in 2016. And so the judge concluded that, at the sentencing, “Ms. Creel may, if (and only if) she chooses to do so, present medical evidence to the court establishing that she has been rendered incapable of procreation.”

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Creel eventually underwent the procedure voluntarily in November, according to court records, though prosecutors argued that her willingness to do so should not be something the judge considers during her sentencing, as she “has a fundamental constitutional right to procreate” and her decision to undergo the procedure has nothing really to do with the crimes she’s committed or any sentence she might receive for those crimes.

Creel’s lawyer, W. Brett Behenna, was surprised to hear a judge recommend sterilization for a case like this. “That’s a very serious thing to bring up in the context of a criminal case, and I’ve never seen it before.” But when he brought it up with his client, Creel, he found that she did not feel coerced at all. “It is my belief that when I discussed it with Summer, she wanted to do it, 100 percent,” he said to the Post. “No coercion, no force.”

What’s so strange and ultimately, very distressing, about this seemingly random legal blip is that forced sterilization has a nasty history in the criminal justice system as being used as a means to subjugugate and control populations that were considered undesirable:

Deborah A. Reid, senior health policy attorney for the Legal Action Center, said that “substance use disorder is a disease, not a character flaw to be used against somebody in sentencing.” Reid said that “sterilization should never be a consideration in sentencing. The courts shouldn’t be involved in a person’s reproductive decision-making.” And, Reid asked, “How can the person give informed consent to be sterilized in this situation?”

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Read the entire case study here. 

Senior Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

scrunchiepower3
scrunchiepower3

I’m an addiction counselor in a rural area, and most of my clients are poor, low-functioning, and have low educational levels. Many of them have no transportation or internet access. They often have unstable housing.

Pretty much every day, I think about how sad it is that childbearing is the default—it’s what happens when you don’t have the resources or functionality to prevent it. My clients love their kids, and often their kids are their primary (or sole) motivator to get sober. But the fact is that these kids did not ask to be brought into their parents’ chaos. They did not ask to become mascots for their parents’ goals to get it together (which sometimes never happens), and so much damage gets done in the meantime. The kids then have almost all the risk factors for ending up in the same kind of life when they grow up.

I used to think that being strongly pro-sex ed, pro-birth control and pro-choice was enough. And to be clear, I *do not* think that judges should be encouraging sterilization to defendants sitting in their courtrooms. However, I now know how many adults with addictions are unable to practice birth control or access abortion—even setting aside the cost. I can see why solutions like this end up being mentioned. I don’t know what I think should be done.