California Healthline Daily Edition

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Nearly 150 Female Prisoners in Calif. Sterilized Without Authorization

Physicians under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violated state law by sterilizing at least 148 female inmates between 2006 and 2010 without required approval, the Center for Investigative Reporting reports.

In addition, about 100 other women likely received unauthorized sterilizations dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents.

Background

Forced sterilizations were banned by the state in 1979.

Since 1994, California has required that voluntary inmate sterilizations be approved by state medical officials on a case-by-case basis.

It also is illegal to coerce prisoners to undergo sterilization or ask for their consent during childbirth or labor.

Details of Sterilizations

The state spent $147,460 to perform tubal ligations on female prisoners from 1997 to 2010, according to a database of medical services performed under contract with CDCR.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and kept at the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, a facility that now incarcerates men.

However, Ricki Barnett of the California Prison Health Care Receivership said that no tubal ligation requests have been brought to the committee responsible for approving such procedures since at least 2008.

State Response

James Heinrich -- an ob-gyn at Valley State -- denied that female inmates were coerced into sterilization, saying that tubal ligations were offered to low-income women who faced health risks because of past cesarean sections.

"They all wanted it done," Heinrich said, adding, "If they come a year or two later saying, 'Somebody forced me to have this done,' that's a lie. That's somebody looking for the state to give them a handout."

Jeffrey Callison -- a spokesperson for CDCR -- refused to comment on the situation, saying that the state no longer has access to inmate medical records since a federal receiver was appointed in 2006 to oversee medical care in the state's prisons (Johnson, Center for Investigative Reporting, 7/7).

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect (California Healthline, 7/1).

Records show that the Receiver's Office knew about the procedures but did not stop them until state Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale) contacted Barnett about the issue in 2010. Barnett then told prison officials to stop offering tubal ligations, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Barnett said that prison physicians seemed unaware that providing tubal ligations without authorization was illegal.

However, Daun Martin -- a psychologist and medical manager at Valley State -- said the prison realized five years earlier that the procedure was restricted but kept offering it in cases of "medical emergency" because officials believed the rules were unfair.

Prisoner Advocates' Response

Former inmates and prisoner advocates say that inmates who were considered likely to be imprisoned again following childbirth were coerced into accepting tubal ligation procedures.

Carolyn Sufrin -- an ob-gyn at San Francisco General Hospital -- said it would have been more appropriate for prison officials to offer long-acting reversible contraception to female inmates with past C-sections, rather than sterilization (Center for Investigative Reporting, 7/7).

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