Californian female prisoners pressured into sterilization

Xavier Symons
13 Jul 2013
Reproduced with Permission

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been accused of forcing female prisoners to have tubal ligations. In an article that has sparked public outcry, the Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIR) claimed that 150 inmates had been pressured into being sterilized. This included a woman who was told during labour; she barely escaped after protesting.

The CIR says that "doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals." The report also states "At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years."

Many of the sterilizations were performed by Dr James Heinrich, the former Valley State Prison obstetrician. In an interview with the CIR, Heinrich felt the need to justify the spending of tax payers money on the procedure - he said that "this isn't a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children - as they procreated more."

The shocking report has raised the spectre of eugenics in a state which sterilized about 20,000 people between 1910 and 1964. "I was like, 'Oh my God, that's not right,'" a former inmate who worked in the infirmary, Crystal Nguyen, told CIR. "Do they think they're animals, and they don't want them to breed anymore?"

In fact, in 2003, Governor Gray Davis issued a formal apology for eugenic sterilisations. "Our hearts are heavy for the pain caused by eugenics. It was a sad and regrettable chapter in the state's history, and it is one that must never be repeated again," he said.

State politicians have reacted strongly to the report and a number of groups are calling for a government enquiry. Senator Ted Lieu has sent a letter to California's medical board demanding answers. The California Legislative Women's Caucus has sent a letter to the head of California Correctional Health Care Services.