WASHINGTON STATE'S most violent prisoners have the right to procreate, the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals decided last week. Since lifers and death-row inmates are not allowed conjugal visits like minimum-security prisoners, our most dangerous felons can now deliver their sperm through the U.S. mail.
Or, as one dissenting appeals judge put it, the ruling grants the "right to procreate from prison via FedEx."
The federal case was brought by a California lifer deprived of on-site sexual visits who argued that he and his wife should be allowed to conceive a child through artificial insemination. William Gerber, doing 111 years at Lancaster after four felonies, is prepared to bring a doctor to prison and have the semen mailed to a laboratory.
"The fundamental right to procreate survives incarceration," concluded the court, which covers nine states, including Washington, establishing the law of the West. The only bar would be if such practice threatened a prison's security, the judges said.
California hasn't decided if it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, although the high court's pronounced tilt against prisoner-rights claims makes chances of a reversal favorable.
If the ruling stands, it's difficult to predict the effects on Washington's prison system. At Walla Walla, could the ruling effectively create a prisoner postal-sperm bank that is the societal opposite of a semen repository for Mensa? Does the ruling promise a new family for Cal Brown, who raped, tortured, and killed a woman here, or Dwayne Woods, who did the same to two women in Spokane? Could they mail sperm to anyone?
To many, sins-of-the-father biological fears are overstated. Others argue that prisoners need love, too. Some women are especially drawn to death-row inmates such as Darold Stenson, Port Angeles killer of two. In a recent Internet posting seeking pen pals, he described himself as "bearded and balding," and a scary photo depicts him as a WWF reject. As a potential donor, he's no genetic treasure. But neither is Charles Manson. And Manson has lost count of the women who've asked to have his baby.
By the way, this ruling may allow just that.