Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.
The Report states that from 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.
The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.
Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.
Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison’s infirmary during 2007, said she often overheard medical staff asking inmates who had served multiple prison terms to agree to be sterilized.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right,’ ” said Nguyen, 28. “Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”
One former Valley State inmate who gave birth to a son in October 2006 said the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, repeatedly pressured her to agree to a tubal ligation.
In 1932, Margaret Sanger called for the U.S. government to set aside farms and what she called “open spaces” where certain groups of people would be segregated from the rest of society. She proposed that, among others, the illiterate, the unemployed and the poor should be forcibly kept in these areas until they developed “better moral conduct.”
In 1950, Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger was quoted again advocating sterilization when she said, “ I consider that the world and almost our civilization for the next twenty-five years, is going to depend upon a simple, cheap, safe contraceptive to be used in poverty stricken slums, jungles, and among the most ignorant people. Even this will not be sufficient, because I believe that now, immediately; there should be national sterilization for certain dysgenic types of our population who are being encouraged to breed and would die out were the government not feeding them.”
During its founding, Planned Parenthood was surrounded by supporters of eugenics. In fact, one of Sanger’s financial backers, Proctor and Gamble heir, Clarence Gamble, provided funding for eugenics projects and gave money directly to the North Carolina Eugenics Board which sterilized many women including, Elaine Riddick. Riddick has been outspoken of her experience leading to a recent apology from the state.
In 1947, Gamble also called for the expansion of that state’s sterilization program saying that for every feebleminded person sterilized, 40 more were polluting and degrading the bloodlines of future generations with their defective genes.
Back to the story: One former Valley State inmate who gave birth to a son in October 2006 said the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, repeatedly pressured her to agree to a tubal ligation.
“As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” said Christina Cordero, 34, who spent two years in prison for auto theft. “He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.”
Cordero, released in 2008, and now living in Upland, agreed to the procedure. “Today,” she said, “I wish I would have never had it done.”
The producers of Maafa21 a documentary on Eugenics had responded to this here:
The 69-year-old Bay Area physician denied pressuring anyone and expressed surprise that local contract doctors had charged for the surgeries. He described the $147,460 total as minimal.
Daun Martin, a licensed psychologist, also claimed that some pregnant women, particularly those on drugs or who were homeless, would commit crimes so they could return to prison for better health care.
“Do I criticize those women for manipulating the system because they’re pregnant? Absolutely not,” Martin, 73, said. “But I don’t think it should happen. And I’d like to find ways to decrease that.”
Martin denied approving the surgeries, but at least 60 tubal ligations were done at Valley State while Martin was in charge, according to the state contracts database.
Martin’s counterpart at the California Institution for Women, Dr. Jacqueline Long, declined to discuss why inmates received unauthorized tubal ligations under her watch. But the Corona prison’s former compliance officer, William Kelsey, said there was disagreement among staff members over the procedure.
During one meeting in late 2005, a few correctional officers differed with Long’s medical team over adding tubal ligations to a local hospital’s contract, Kelsey, 57, said. The officers viewed the surgeries as nonessential medical care and questioned whether the state should pay.
“They were just fed up,” Kelsey said. “They didn’t think criminals and inmates had a right to the care we were providing them and they let their personal opinions be heard.”
The service was included, however, and Kelsey said the grumbling subsided.
Federal and state laws ban inmate sterilizations if federal funds are used, reflecting concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply. California used state funds instead, but since 1994, the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis.
Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries, said Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp. Barnett, 65, has led the Health Care Review Committee since joining the prison receiver’s office in 2008.
“When we heard about the tubal ligations, it made us all feel slightly queasy,” Barnett said. “It wasn’t so much that people were conspiratorial or coercive or sloppy. It concerns me that people never took a step back to project what they would feel if they were in the inmate’s shoes and what the inmate’s future might hold should they do this.”
Former Valley State Prison for Women inmate Kimberly Jeffrey spends time with her son Noel, 3, at their San Francisco home. During her imprisonment in 2010, Jeffrey says a doctor pressured her to agree to be sterilized while she was sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section. She refused.
Credit: Noah Berger/For The Center for Investigative Reporting
Yet, Kimberly Jeffrey says she was pressured by a doctor while sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section in 2010, during a stint at Valley State for a parole violation. Jeffrey, 43, was horrified, she said, and resisted.
“He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’ ” Jeffrey said. “I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’ I went into a straight panic.”
Jeffrey provided copies of her official prison and hospital medical files to CIR. Those records show Jeffrey rejected a tubal ligation offer during a December 2009 prenatal checkup at Heinrich’s office. A medical report from Jeffrey’s C-section a month later noted that she again refused a tubal ligation request made after she arrived at Madera Community Hospital.
At no time did anyone explain to her any medical justifications for tubal ligation, Jeffrey said.
That experience still haunts Jeffrey, who lives in San Francisco with her 3-year-old son, Noel. She speaks to groups seeking to improve conditions for female prisoners and has lobbied legislators in Sacramento. Jeffrey recently completed her ACT college-entrance test and hopes to pursue a degree at San Francisco State University.
“Being treated like I was less than human produced in me a despair,” she said.
State prison officials “are the real repeat offenders,” Jeffrey added. “They repeatedly offended me by denying me my right to dignity and humanity.”
Heinrich considers the questions raised about his medical care unfair and said he is suspicious about the women’s motives. Heinrich insists he worked hard to give inmates high-quality medical treatment, adding that hundreds of appreciative prisoners could vouch for that.
“They all wanted it done,” he said of the sterilizations. “If they come a year or two later saying, ‘Somebody forced me to have this done,’ that’s a lie. That’s somebody looking for the state to give them a handout.
“My guess is that the only reason you do that is not because you feel wronged, but that you want to stay on the state’s dole somehow.”