Calif. Lawmakers Call for Probe of Unapproved Inmate Sterilizations
On Wednesday, California lawmakers called for an investigation of physicians involved in the illegal sterilization of female inmates, the Center for Investigative Reporting reports.
The legislators also questioned a federal prison overseer's management of the incidents (Johnson, Center for Investigative Reporting, 7/10).
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 Sterilizations
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, according to a CIR report. In addition, about 100 other women likely received unauthorized sterilizations dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents.
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 (California Healthline, 7/8).
State Sens. Ted Lieu (D-Redondo Beach) -- chair of the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee -- and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) -- vice chair of the California Legislative Women's Caucus -- sent a letter to the Medical Board of California, urging it to:
- Consider whether the physicians involved in the cases should be disciplined; and
- Recommend methods for ensuring that unauthorized surgeries do not occur in the future.
Criticism of Federal Overseer
Jackson and other legislative leaders sent a separate letter to J. Clark Kelso, federal overseer of California's prisons, criticizing his handling of the cases and asking how female inmates were allowed to be sterilized while prisons were under federal control.
The letter states, "As the federal receiver, you were appointed by the three-judge panel to implement a lawful standard of medical care in California prisons," adding, "These instances of unauthorized tubal ligations under your watch violate California state laws."
The lawmakers said they will urge the California State Auditor to investigate the matter.
Joyce Hayhoe, who is part of the federal receivership, said performing unauthorized sterilizations "was clearly a practice that started in the prison system prior to the receivership -- that we inherited."
Hayhoe said that officials with the receivership met with the women's caucus on Wednesday to discuss the situation and that they intend to answer lawmakers' questions (Center for Investigation Reporting, 7/10).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.