A judge in Tennessee is walking back on a controversial order that offered reduced jail time to inmates who go through sterilization procedures, after criticism from the health community and legal experts.

Inmates in White County, Tenn., received reduced sentences by undergoing vasectomies or birth control implants, according to the order proposed by Sam Benningfield, a general sessions judge.

Since the implementation of the order in May, 32 women received birth control implants, and 38 men signed up for vasectomies. The goal, according to Benningfield, was to stop the cycle of criminals by stopping their reproduction, a mission that faced a great deal of criticism from the medical community.

“It’s completely wrong,” medical ethicist Art Caplan said during an interview with Boston Public Radio Wednesday. “What does reproduction have to do with getting in trouble?”

According to Caplan, Benningfield’s intentions harken back to dangerous antiquated concepts. “We’ll cut back on crime, I assume is what the judge is saying, by stopping you deviants from having children — it doesn’t work that way,” Caplan said. “You don’t transmit crime through your genes. This is like some kind of bizarre 19th-century biology.”

“Poverty would be nice to alleviate, that would be good. … Doing something about addiction … that would be nice, a good program to offer,” Caplan continued. “But a vasectomy? For what, petty larceny?”

This order, Caplan says, introduces another concept entirely: how birth control should be provided in American prisons. “There’s some rule there for offering birth control — which we don’t do, by the way, we might want to be doing that — I’m not sure I’d make that hinge on my sentence, so to speak, but I’m certainly willing to make it available, offer it, push it, promote it,” Caplan said. “I think this Tennessee judge is in a different ballpark, because what he’s doing is, he’s saying, I’m going to sterilize criminals.”

If the crime involved child abuse or incompetence in raising children, Caplan said the sentence might make more sense. “You might sentence somebody to a period of contraception because they’ve been a danger to their kids ... you might have the state step in and take away their kids,” Caplan said, “I get all that. But I’m coming back to a different context. This is: I stole a loaf of bread, how about a vasectomy — what’s the connection there?”

Medical Ethicist Art Caplan is Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center ad the co-host of the Everyday Ethics podcast. To hear more of his interview with BPR, click on the audio link above.