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California Inmates Conducted Sterilizations on Female Inmates

Jul 9, 2013

Although forced sterilizations have been banned for decades, hundreds of female inmates have been sterilized in California prisons without mandated state approval.

Physicians under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation conducted sterilizations on about 150 women from 2006 to 2010, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) discovered, according to The Sacramento Bee. Some 148 women underwent tubal ligations and about 100 more likely also underwent the procedures as far back as the late 1990s, state documents and interviews indicate.

State paid physicians received about $147,460 during 1997-2010 to perform the procedures, a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners reveals, according to The Sacramento Bee. The women were scheduled for surgery while imprisoned and pregnant; the facilities involved were the California Institution for Women in Corona and the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which, at the time, was a women’s prison.

According to former inmates and prisoner advocates, prison medical staff allegedly coerced certain female inmates—specifically, those likeliest to be re-incarcerated—to undergo tubal ligation, The Sacramento Bee reported.

In one case, a former inmate at the Valley State Prison—Crystal Nguyen, 28—who worked in the facility’s infirmary in 2007, said she frequently overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served more than one term to agree to sterilization. "I was like, 'Oh my God, that's not right.’ Do they think they're animals, and they don't want them to breed anymore?" she said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Another former inmate from the same facility said ob-gyn Dr. James Heinrich continually pressured her to undergo tubal ligation. "As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it," said Christina Cordero, 34, according to The Sacramento Bee. "He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn't do it." Cordero ultimately agreed to the procedure. "Today, I wish I would have never had it done."

In an interview with CIR, Heinrich said he provided an important service to poor women; he denied pressuring anyone and described the money he received as minimal.

The top medical manager at Valley State Prison from 2005 to 2008, Daun Martin, a licensed psychologist, 73, denied approving the procedures; however, 60 tubal ligations were conducted at Valley State when Martin was in charge, state contracts database indicates, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Federal and state laws ban federally funded inmate sterilizations; however, California used state funds. Since 1994, sterilization has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on an individual basis. While no such requests have been presented, according to Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp., the receiver’s office was aware of the sterilizations, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Michelle Anderson, who gave birth while at Valley State, said she only had one previous C-section, yet was repeatedly pressured to undergo tubal ligation. Nikki Montano tells the same story. She underwent one prior C-section and was pushed to undergo tubal ligation, according to CIR. “I figured that’s just what happens in prison—that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going get,” Montano said. “He never told me nothing about nothing.” She agreed to the surgery.

Kimberly Jeffrey says she was also pressured. She was sedated and strapped and being prepared for a C-section in 2010 at Valley State. She resisted, according to CIR. “He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’” Jeffrey said. “I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’ I went into a straight panic.” Today, Jeffrey speaks to groups working for improved conditions for female prisoners and is also a lobbyist. “Being treated like I was less than human produced in me a despair,” she told CIR.

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