Senate Committee Seeks Inmate Sterilization Audit, Legislation
During a California Senate Public Safety Committee hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers said they will request a state audit of efforts to sterilize female inmates and support legislation that would protect against unauthorized sterilizations in state prisons, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports.
The hearing followed an investigation that found that nearly 150 female inmates were sterilized between 2006 and 2010 without required approval (McGreevy, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/13).
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 the Center for Investigative Reporting 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.
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, 7/11).
During the hearing on Tuesday, 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" (Johnson, Center for Investigative Reporting, 8/13).
Inmate Advocates' Comments
During the hearing, members of Justice Now, a prison rights group, proposed legislation that would protect against future sterilizations of female prisoners. The proposal also would seek an apology from the state and reparations ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/13).
Courtney Hooks -- spokesperson for Justice Now -- said the group still is receiving reports of prison health care providers suggesting sterilization to female inmates.
She recommended that lawmakers:
- Track all prison sterilizations; and
- Require reports to the state medical board about doctors who perform unauthorized sterilizations.
Hooks said, "Verbal assurances that abuses have stopped are not sufficient to ensure sterilization abuses will not reoccur" (Center for Investigative Reporting, 8/13).
Nora Wilson -- a staff attorney for the advocacy group -- said, "In a coercive prison setting there is total control over a person," adding, "Consent in that environment cannot be relied upon" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 8/13).
Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) -- chair of the Public Safety Committee -- said the legislation proposed by Justice Now would "clarify" state policy on inmate sterilizations.
In addition, Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) -- vice chair of the panel -- said such a bill would help ensure that unauthorized sterilizations do not continue.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee is scheduled to vote next week on whether the State Auditor's Office will conduct an investigation into the matter (Center for Investigative Reporting, 8/13).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.