California Prisons Illegally Sterilized Dozens Of Women, Audit Finds


A California State Auditors report criticized California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for illegal sterilizations in women’s prison, which were done without consent and grossly violated prison policy. The audit, requested by California Legislative Women’s Caucus, was completed in response to findings from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) last July.

Between fiscal years 2005–2006 and 2012–2013, 144 bilateral tubal ligations, or tube-tying procedures, were carried out. According to the report, tubal ligations are generally done “for the sole purpose of sterilization,” so prisons must follow strict guidelines to perform them.

Auditors found that 39 of 144 did not give full consent. In 27 of the 39 procedures, the physician did not sign a consent form guaranteeing that the “inmate appeared mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure.” And in 18 of the 39 cases, physicians violated the required waiting period between the inmate’s consent and the actual procedure. Inmates who did give consent did not have a witness of choice, as required by prison medical regulations. Physicians did not document their conversations with inmates about the sterilization process with any of the 144 inmates. And none of the procedures were authorized by an oversight committee of state medical professionals.

“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,” claimed Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, in response to the audit.

All of the inmates who had their tubes tied had a history of at least one imprisonment, leading former inmates to argue that certain women were targeted by prison officials. And while he’s not mentioned in the auditors’ report, a second CIR investigation found that the majority of illegal sterilization procedures were authorized or performed by Dr. James Heinrich.

In addition to highlighting the illegal sterilizations, the report offered several recommendations to prevent illegal sterilizations in the future. Prisons should provide special training on how to comply with consent rules, and develop a consistent for witnesses of choice to watch the consent process.