Jewish Journal


July 10, 2013

Sterilization of California’s Women Inmates: It’s Time For Another Apology!



Source: Chris Hayes' "All In" July 8, 2013 MSNBC

“Mark my words, some future Governor of this state will come before the citizens to apologize…Jerry Brown can save that future governor the whole ritual by acting now.”

That is what Chris Hayes had to say on July 8th, when covering the report by Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting released on July 7th: “Female Inmates Sterilized in California Prisons Without Approval.”

From 2006-2010, 148 women inmates were sterilized without the doctors obtaining approvals required by the state to do so. It’s likely that another 100 women were sterilized in the late 1990s as well.

The report states: “Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.”

The residents of California and the United States should be outraged; thank goodness for the few news agencies who have picked up this story!

In the report, former women inmates detail being pressured into tubal ligation during pregnancies. Sterilizations during labor or childbirth are not allowed in prisons if federal funds are used to perform them due to the very real and obvious “concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply.” Dr. Dorothy Roberts clearly explains: “soliciting approval for sterilization during labor is coercive because pain and discomfort can impair a woman’s ability to weigh the decision.”

California has a horrifying history with sterilization. From 1909-1964, 20,000 women and men in CA were sterilized. The report also notes that Nazis asked California eugenics leaders for advice on the matter in the 1930s. See the quote by Hitler, which Chris Hayes mentioned on his show, in the photograph.

Hayes connects the issue of sterilizations in prisons with problems in our prisons in general. He notes that prisoners in California are conducting their 3rd hunger strike to protest “subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement.” In California inmates can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely and 70% of those who committed suicide in California prisons in 2005 were in solitary confinement at the time, according to Hayes’ report.

The CIR report states that:

“Under compulsory sterilization laws here and in 31 other states, minority groups, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and criminals were singled out as inferior to prevent them from spreading their genes.”

Justice Now, a non-profit organization based in Oakland, has been actively trying to get medical data and records from the prisons for several years.  A response they got from the Receiver’s Office acknowledged that tubal ligations were taking place in 2 prisons in California back in 2008. But nothing was done about this until 2010, when Justice Now filed a public records request and complained to Senator Carol Liu, who was then the Chairwoman of the Select Committee of Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System. Dr. Ricki Barnett of the Health Care Review Committee explained in the report that no requests for tubal ligations had come to the Committee for review since she joined the Committee in 2008. Barnett told officials at both prisons and at nearby hospitals to stop the sterilizations, but said in the report that they seemed to not know about the existing restrictions on the procedure, “operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.”

Some of the doctors who performed the surgeries have claimed that they just wanted to provide options to the women inmates just as they would have options outside of prison and to ensure that their health is a priority. But inmates have claimed that they were pressured into getting tubal ligations without being given reasons or explanations as to why they should do so.

The doctors who performed these coercive procedures should be held accountable for their actions. Governor Brown must step up and, yes, apologize for the State’s lack of oversight and enforcement of the law and should ensure that those who work in the prison system are held accountable for wrongdoing. Future medical professionals in our prisons must be thoroughly trained to provide proper medical care to inmates, care that respects their human desires and needs, and does not use intimidation or coercion to perform eugenic procedures on disempowered populations. A process for review on the state level is necessary and the residents of California have a right to be informed and to review policies and procedures in our prisons.

Below is a statement made by Governor Davis back in 2003 to the 20,000 victims of sterilization mentioned earlier in the article. I believe it is time for another apology!


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