After the Center for Investigative Reporting broke a story that the California Department of Corrections had been illegally sterilizing women for many years, a state audit of the federal and state prison system in California, has revealed many instances of illegal sterilization surgeries for female prison inmates and violations of California's informed-consent law. Of the 144 tubal ligations that were performed on female inmates from 2005-2013, more than one quarter were performed without any consent by the prisoners whatsoever, reported State Auditor Elaine Howle.
Justice Now, a prisoner rights groups, has been raising questions about prison sterilization since the early 2000s after receiving medical reports which supported allegations of abuse from incarcerated women.
It was reported that prison medical staffers forced these women to get these sterilization surgeries, targeting the inmates who would likely return to prison after they were released, according to former inmates and prisoner advocates. The audit revealed that all of the women who received tubal ligations in these California state prisons from 2005 to 2013 had been in the prison system at least once before, yet prison medical officials have denied these allegations.
The audit noted:
· Most of the sterilized women tested at lower than a high school level of reading proficiency
· Inmates receiving sterilization typically had been pregnant before
· There were 18 cases with potential violations of the required waiting period between when the inmate consented and when the surgery actually took place. State law requires a 30-day waiting period to make sure patients are not pressured or rushed into something they do not want to do.
The audit also indicated that some of the prison doctors had falsified consent forms, stating that the proper wait period had passed when it had not. The audit also revealed that the Federal Receiver's office, which took over medical care in the state's prisons in 2006, has no legal duty to make sure prison employees comply with the consent procedures.
Liz Gransee, the spokeswoman for the federal prison receiver, confirmed that her office's lawyers disagree with the audit's conclusions. However, their office will nevertheless implement the audit's recommendations. They have initiated staff training, among other things.
It is clear that the prison system is not an environment where sterilization, in any form, should take place. The potential for abuse under circumstances such as these have been borne out, and the results of what has occurred in the California prison system shock the conscience of any person who has respect for the dignity and basic human rights of women.
In response to the Center for Investigative Reporting's report, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson requested the state audit and introduced a bill that would ban all inmate sterilization for birth control purposes. Under SB1135, such surgeries would only be performed under life threatening circumstances. The Senate has approved the bill and it is now before the Assembly.