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Audit Shows California Sterilized Women Prisoners Improperly

A report prepared by the California State Auditor has revealed yet another serious problem in prisoner medical care in the state.  The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation carried out dozens of illegal sterilizations of its women prisoners from 2005 to 2006, and from 2012 to 2013 without proper consent forms and without proof that those being sterilized had been properly counseled regarding the radical procedure.

The report noted that 144 tubal ligations, also known as “tube-tying,” were performed on the women “for the sole purpose of sterilization.” According to the Auditor’s findings, “State regulations impose informed consent requirements that must be met before a woman can be sterilized; however, Corrections and the Receiver’s Office sometimes failed to ensure that inmates’ consent for sterilization was lawfully obtained.”

The report went on to state that “39 inmates were sterilized following deficiencies in the informed consent process. For 27 of the 39 inmates, the physician performing the procedure or an alternate physician failed to sign the inmate’s consent form certifying that the inmate appeared mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure. For 18 of the 39 inmates, we noted potential violations of the waiting period between when the inmate consented to the procedure and when the sterilization surgery actually took place. Finally, among these 39 inmates were six who were sterilized following violations of both these requirements.”

During the time period covered by the report, California women prisoners were confined in four penal institutions.  Ironically, the California women’s prison system was stripped of its independent administration of medical care for its prisoners in 2005 because of the failure of the system: “A receiver took control of prison medical care in 2006 and will retain control until the court finds that Corrections can maintain a constitutionally adequate prison medical care system.”

Many were angered that these procedures were carried out, including Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, of Santa Barbara, California, who said, “ This audit demonstrates there is a systemic problem, and implicates the entire culture.  The right to have a family is a fundamental right that each of us has.  Many of these women are first-time offenders and already have families.”

Recommendations how to prevent the illegal sterilizations from happening in the future included special training on compliance with consent rules, development of a consistent policy for witnesses to verify the consent process, reporting physicians and other medical providers who have previously engaged in the practice, and set up a system for regular monitoring of such procedures.


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