Calif. Panel Approves, Fast-Tracks Audit of Prison Sterilizations
On Thursday, members of California's Joint Legislative Audit Committee unanimously approved a review of unauthorized sterilizations of female inmates and asked the State Auditor's office to make the investigation its highest priority, the Center for Investigative Reporting reports (Johnson, Center for Investigative Reporting, 8/21).
California banned forced sterilizations in 1979.
Since 1994, California has required that voluntary inmate sterilizations be approved by state medical officials on a case-by-case basis.
According to state law, it also is illegal to coerce prisoners to undergo sterilization or ask for their consent during childbirth or labor.
Details of Investigation
An investigation by CIR found that physicians under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation violated state law by sterilizing at least 148 female inmates without required approval between 2006 and 2010. In addition, about 100 other women likely received unauthorized sterilizations dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents.
During a Senate Public Safety Committee hearing earlier this month, J. Clark Kelso -- federal overseer of California's prisons -- said the unauthorized sterilizations appear to stem from a memo sent to prison staff in 1999 that directs tubal ligations to be included in pregnant inmate care.
He said, "That's why I determined not to discipline doctors and didn't refer cases to the medical board," adding, "It seems to me that we had a real conflict in direction from headquarters" (California Healthline, 8/14).
Details of Audit
On Thursday, State Auditor Elaine Howle said the investigation would examine several facets of the state prison system and its federal receivership, such as:
- Policies; and
- Past practices.
She said that auditors will examine each sterilization case from the past eight years to determine the inmates':
- Economic status;
- Number of prison terms;
- Number of pregnancies; and
- Number of births.
The investigation also will seek to determine whether each prisoner consented to the procedure and how consent was obtained. Howle said the audit would examine whether certain inmates were targeted.
According to Howle, the audit will take seven to eight months and cost more than $380,000.
State Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Modesto) said that the situation is "outrageous" and that people might have "broken the law." He added, "This audit should be step one in holding people accountable."
Meanwhile, Joyce Hayhoe -- spokesperson for the federal receivership -- said her office supports the investigation and will assist auditors with the review. However, she said the scope of the audit should be larger and include sterilizations before the beginning of the federal receivership in 2006.
She said, "We owe the state of California the reason why this happened. ... We need the whole picture" (Center for Investigative Reporting, 8/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.