Governor Brown, end sterilization abuse in California today

by Bernadette Rabuy, September 12, 2014

For the past few years, California has been a well-known site of criminal justice reform. Beginning in 2006 and accelerating in 2009, the California prison population declined rapidly. In 2012, in response to a Supreme Court order to reduce unconstitutional prison overcrowding, Governor Brown signed the realignment law, which shifted incarcerated individuals with lower-level offenses from state prisons to county jails. While the results have been mixed, some counties have used the realignment law as an opportunity to adopt and experiment with alternatives to incarceration.

Yet, what is likely less well known is California’s shameful legacy of eugenics. Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that from 2006 to 2010 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 incarcerated females, permanently ending their chance of future pregnancy and doing so without required state approval.1 Doctors in California prisons pressured incarcerated females—especially those who had served multiple prison terms—to undergo sterilization procedures. When asked about the cost of the procedures, Dr. James Heinrich, an OB-GYN at one of California’s prisons who has been accused of pressuring females to agree to sterilizations, told the Center for Investigative Reporting, “Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for those unwanted children – as they procreated more.” While Dr. Heinrich claims he performed the procedures for the health and safety of the incarcerated females, the females who were under his care say otherwise. One woman, Kimberly Jeffrey, said a doctor at Valley State Prison pressured her while she was sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section in 2010. Clearly, eugenics is not a practice of the past.

On August 25, we at Prison Policy Initiative sent a letter to Governor Brown in support of SB 1135 (Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson), which is currently sitting on his desk. SB 1135 will clarify the prohibition of sterilizations for the purpose of birth control on incarcerated individuals and will create greater safeguards to ensure that only sterilizations that are medically necessary will be performed. This includes annual reporting of sterilizations performed, broken down by race, age, method, and medical justification. We believe that, whether an individual is incarcerated or not, she should have the right to make her own choices regarding her reproductive life. Justice Now, an Oakland-based organization, has been at the forefront of the movement to end sterilizations for the purpose of birth control in California prisons. Through Justice Now’s leadership, SB 1135 has unanimously passed the California legislature. It now sits on Governor Brown’s desk, and we urge him to end sterilization abuse in California today.

  1. This is not new for the state of California. Further back, from 1909 to 1964, about 20,000 women and men in California were stripped of the ability to reproduce. Historians say California’s eugenic leaders advised Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  ↩

One Response

  1. Governor Brown signs prison anti-sterilization bill | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 week, 6 days after publication:

    […] California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1135 (Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson), putting an end to sterilization abuse in California prisons. This is a well-earned victory for our friends at Justice Now, whose hard […]

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