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Female California prison inmates sterilized without their consent

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In a scenario reminiscent of Nazi Germany, sterilizations without proper consent have been performed on female California inmates. On June 19, the California State Auditor accused state and federal authorities of oversight in regard to sterilization procedures at California prisons. Numerous violations of California’s informed consent laws and performance of illegal surgeries were cited. According to the auditor’s report, from fiscal years 2005-2006 through 2012-2013, approximately 30% of 144 female prison inmates underwent a tubal ligation without the attainment of legal consent. In 27 cases, the prisoner’s doctor, the individual who would perform the procedure in a hospital, or an alternate physician, did not sign the required consent form affirming that the woman appeared mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure. In addition, no documentation was that the mandatory waiting period had taken place.

The report alleges that in some cases, surgeons falsified the consent forms; the noted that the mandatory waiting period had been satisfies when it clearly had not. It also note that the actual number of illegal procedures might be higher: auditors discovered seven cases at one hospital in which medical records were lost in a routine purging. “It made me sick to my stomach,” noted state Senator Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach in a statement. The senator was the first to request an investigation by the Medical Board of California; that investigation is ongoing. Senator Lieu demanded a formal apology from the federal receiver’s office, which assumed responsibility for medical care in California’s prisons in 2006.

The auditors have pressed federal officials to produce the names of the physicians involved in the unlawful surgeries to the California Medical Board and the California Department of Public Health for further investigation and disciplinary action. Last August, members of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus requested the audit in response to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). The CIR investigation, which was published last July, discovered that 132 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 through 2010. The investigation also noted that approximately 100 more women had undergone an illegal sterilization dating back to the late 1990s.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates allege that the prison medical staffs pressured the women, and focused one women likely to return to prison in the future. The new audit affirmed that all prisoners who underwent a tubal ligation had been incarcerated at least one previous time; thus, indicating that they were repeat offenders. In a written response to the audit, the state prison health department primarily agreed with the findings; moreover, it noted that it has taken steps to improve.

The CIR investigation found that prisoners were scheduled for the surgery while pregnant at the two women’s prisons that housed pregnant inmates: the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. Valley State became a men’s prison in 2013. The federal officials noted that none of the tubal ligations performed since 2006 received sign-off by a state-level committee of medical professionals. State prison data specifies that more than 50% of the surgeries requested during that time period (74) were performed on Valley State inmates. According to the prison’s medical service request records, the majority of those requests were from Dr. James Heinrich, Valley State’s OB-GYN, or a nurse on his staff.

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