State Audit Uncovers Illegal Inmate Sterilizations in Recent Years
A state audit has found that many female California inmates were sterilized between 2006 and 2010 without approval required under state law, the Center for Investigative Reporting reports (Johnson, Center for Investigative Reporting, 6/19).
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.
Lawmakers requested a state audit after 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 (California Healthline, 8/14/13).
Details of State Audit
State Auditor Elaine Howle found that more than 25% of the 144 tubal ligations performed on inmates in fiscal years 2005-2006 and 2012-2013 did not include consent required by law (Siders, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 6/19). According to the audit, providers involved in the 39 illegal sterilization cases include:
- 17 doctors; and
- Eight hospitals.
In the report, Howle noted that the "true number" of procedures done without consent could be higher because records were lost for seven cases.
The state audit found that most women who received the procedure:
- Were between ages 26 and 40 and had been pregnant five or more times; and
- Had less than a high school reading level, with about 33% having less than a sixth-grade reading level.
The inmate's physician in 27 cases did not sign a consent form stating that the patient was mentally competent, understood the procedure and had satisfied the required waiting period, according to the audit.
In addition, 18 cases potentially violated the 30-day waiting period requirement. The auditor also found that some physicians falsified documents related to the waiting period (Center for Investigative Reporting, 6/19).
The report recommended that the federal receiver's office -- which oversees medical care in California prisons --provide the names of physicians involved in the illegal sterilizations to the Medical Board of California and the state Department of Public Health for disciplinary action (Willon, Los Angeles Times, 6/19).
Liz Gransee, a spokesperson for the federal prison receiver, said that the agency disagrees with the audit's conclusions but that the office would implement its recommendations (Center for Investigative Reporting, 6/19). Gransee said, "We are taking additional safeguards to ensure that nothing like this happens again in the future" (Los Angeles Times, 6/19).
However, Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Redondo Beach) demanded that the federal receiver's office issue a formal apology over the matter. Lieu said, "The federal judiciary took over our state prison system and they are responsible," adding, "These gross failures demonstrate again why the judicial branch is ill-equipped to run a large, complex prison system."
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), one of the lawmakers who requested the audit, said the findings provide "clear proof that the prison environment is an environment where consent simply cannot be obtained in a responsible, reliable manner for these procedures" (Center for Investigative Reporting, 6/19).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.