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Prison Doctor Sterilizes Hundreds of Women Prisoners at Northbay Medical Center in Fairfield

Posted by Seth Chazin | Feb 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

A prison doctor from Valley State Prison for Women is reportedly responsible for hundreds of sterilizations and tubal ligations of females without state approval. Dr. James Henrich has been known to have a history of medical controversies and malpractice settlements both inside and outside the prison walls. Female patients have complained about his unsanitary habits and trying to dictate their reproductive decisions.

Henrich worked at the Valley State Prison for Women for six years and retired in 2011, yet Federal authorities rehired him as a contract physician and he continued to treat inmates at Valley State until December 2012.

Before working at the prisons, Heinrich was involved in a significant negligence and incompetence suit during his surgeries and deliveries working at the NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield. Heinrich reportedly had to pay $342,000 in legal settlements. His attorney explained that lawsuits are common among OB-GYN's and that the settlement does not represent the quality of a doctor's care.

In addition to tubal ligations, Heinrich conducted 378 other types of sterilizations from 2006 to 2012.These included hysterectomies, removal of ovaries and a procedure called endometrial ablation, which destroys the lining of the uterus to stop excessive bleeding.

The high number of sterilizations Heinrich conducted caused the federal authorities to take note. Heinrich was first hired by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2005 to head Obstetrics and Gynecology at Valley State Prison. Once Heinrich was hired, the number of sterilization surgeries were said to have significantly increased. From 2006 to 2008, Valley State had about 150 sterilization surgeries of all types; this was six times greater than the largest women's prison in the state.

Several former inmates recalled that Heinrich would persuade the women into hysterectomies and other sterilization surgeries during visits, and reportedly often gave them false information about the medical reasoning behind the surgeries. A patient Tamika Thomas of Stockton is said to have seen Heinrich in 2006, while she was serving a sentence for assault with a deadly weapon. She asked Heinrich for birth control to regular her menstrual cycle, yet instead Heinrich reportedly insisted on a surgery that would stop the bleeding by operating on the inside of her uterus. Thomas reportedly said Heinrich never warned her that the surgery would sterilize her and she regrets that she ever agreed to it.

Federal officials also found problems with Heinrich's care for the patients. It has been reported that two inmates' babies died during childbirth due to Heinrich supplying the mother with the wrong prenatal medicine and from failing to preform prenatal tests for bacteria.

In 2008 an inmate Michelle Diaz accused him of inappropriate and unsanitary behavior during a Pap smear. Diaz told Heinrich she had an irritation outside her vagina, but she said Heinrich inserted his fingers inside her vagina without gloves and that she exploded in anger. Then, according to Diaz, without warning Heinrich applied a burning chemical to her vaginal area. Diaz filed a complaint against Heinrich, and one of Heinrich's nurses is said to have confirmed that he had not warned Diaz before treating her. And that Heinrich would only wear one glove while performing a Pap smear.

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About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson