California was sterilizing its female prisoners as late as 2010

California banned force sterilizations in 1979, but as recently as 2010, female inmates in the state were getting the procedure

The Young Turks in conjunction with The Center for Investigative Reporting released the third in their line-up of investigative documentaries: Sterilized Behind Bars.


On a lazy Sunday in March 2012, I was headed out to run errands when CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 turned to a broadcast called “Eugenics in America“. The report recounted the sad history of minorities, prisoners, the poor and the disabled being forcibly sterilized during the early 20th century.

No news there, right? Yet, I was taken aback when the piece focused onCalifornia‘s role. I never knew the Golden State led the nation with nearly 20,000 sterilizations. Nor did I know that Nazi Germany consulted with California’s eugenics leaders in the 1930s. I also was surprised that CNN’s reporter was unable to get lawmakers in Sacramento to talk about this.

I set out to learn more. Were there any living victims? If so, how many and how could I find them?

Coincidentally, soon afterward, I received a tip that sterilizations may have occurred in California’s women’s prisons as recently as 2010. The assertion shocked me. It sounded outlandish.

By then, I knew that California lawmakers had banned forced sterilizations in 1979. Since 1994, elective sterilizations have required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis. Had that happened in these cases?

I sought out the prisoner rights organization Justice Now and traveled to its Oakland office. Advocates showed me state spreadsheets indicating contract doctors were reimbursed for performing tubal ligations on inmates. The group’s data was incomplete. It lacked the amounts paid. And there was no information on who was sterilized or whether the procedures were approved at headquarters. But at a minimum, the documents showed that the tip wasn’t as off base as it first appeared.

The missing information foreshadowed the difficulties that would come in the months ahead as I sought to fill in the blanks. Intense secrecy governs these surgeries. Strict state and federal laws protect patient privacy. Prison attorneys fought to deny access to key documents and records, including those not medically related. Also, inmates who have been sterilized are reluctant to talk about it for many reasons – some of which stem from shame and trauma from the surgery.

Continue Reading @ The Guardian



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