The Center for Investigative Reporting has found rampant abuses of female inmates’ reproductive rights and access to adequate medical care in California prisons. The Sacramento Bee has a fairly damning article exposing The CIR’s findings, which show a practice of forcible sterilization of incarcerated women through a variety of coercive tactics.
Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals.
At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.
Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.
Prison medical staff coerced pregnant patients by repeatedly harassing them to have the procedure done, suggesting the procedure without adequately explaining the medical necessity, or most disturbingly, pressuring a patient while she was “sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section,” as in the case of former inmate and inmate rights activist Kimberly Jeffrey.
A 2010 call from Oakland-based prisoner rights group Justice Now to State Senator Carol Liu, the then chairwoman of the Select Committee on Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System, launched the initial investigation into the systemic abuses. According to Dr. Ricki Barnett, of the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp., the medical staff appeared unaware of a 16-year-old restriction on tubal ligations and the necessary approval they had to obtain before performing the procedure. When it comes to taking responsibility for this, prison officials were more than willing to pass the buck or downplay the abuses.
It seems suspect that not a single doctor or prison official would be aware of legally binding restrictions on medical procedures. Instead, it seems like a few doctors decided to take matters into their own hands and decide who was fit to be a mother and who wasn’t.
The prison system in the country is deeply flawed, and frequently the incarcerated are subject to unspeakable trauma inside the prison system (endemic rape, for one). Even after committing a crime, a person should not lose his or her access to adequate medical care or his or her right to be a knowledgeable and informed patient.