Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

In Chilling Nod to Eugenics, Doctors Illegally Sterilized California Prisoners

Valley State Prison in Chowchilla (Photo: CDCR)

Valley State Prison in Chowchilla (Photo: CDCR)

Former inmate: “Being treated like I was less than human produced in me a despair”

Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

Doctors at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla steamrolled state requirements that sterilization procedures for inmates first go to a medical review board and signed up pregnant women for tubal ligations to be performed immediately after birth.

Funding for the procedures came from California tax payers, CIR reports.

Some of the women who underwent the operation say that they were coerced into the procedure, facing doctors who pressured them to undergo sterilization while they were sedated, physically restrained, and incarcerated. Some say they did not receive complete information about the procedure, or were told by doctors they ‘were not good mothers’ if they refused the procedure.

“Being treated like I was less than human produced in me a despair,” former inmate Kimberly Jeffrey—who faced several attempts from doctors to pressure her into the surgical procedure— told CIR.

State oversight requirements for sterilization procedures of prisoners stem from California’s painful past of eugenics, in which people of color, people with disabilities, the poor, and so-called criminals underwent forced sterilization procedures. The LA Times reports:

Between 1909 and 1964, more than 20,000 people in California were robbed of their reproductive abilities through a state program of forced sterilization. Under the misleading guise of “race betterment,” doctors at California’s state hospitals sterilized those who were considered “unfit to propagate.”

Doctors targeted women who ‘already had too many children’ or were believed to be ‘repeat offenders’ for the operation.

CIR reports:

Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’” Nguyen, 28, said. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”

For the past five years, prisoner rights organization Justice Now has been raising concerns about forced sterilization and other forms of abuse and discrimination that women in California prisons face.



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