NPR: CA Seeks Answers on Questionable Prison Sterilizations

September 20, 2013

When some of these sterilizations came to light this summer, lawmakers demanded answers from prison health care officials. In response, prison officials released documents that revealed hundreds of female inmates have been sterilized since 1997. They also produced a 1999 memo directing tubal ligation in post-partum care.

Clark Kelso, the federal receiver for prison health care in California, spoke to lawmakers at a recent hearing about the memo's directive. "We don't know why — it's very long ago," Kelso said. "We don't know why that particular decision was reached ... but that was what doctors in the field were told."

After a federal court ruled human rights abuses were taking place under California state leadership, it appointed the federal receiver to take control of the state's prison health care. But the sterilizations continued.

"It seemed to me we had a real conflict of direction from headquarters," Kelso said.

At the same legislative hearing, Democratic state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson raised the specter of eugenics.

"I think we're all committed to getting to the bottom of this and making sure that these antiquated notions and almost barbaric concepts are no longer part of our lexicon," she said.

Jackson is a member of the California Legislative Women's Caucus, which requested the state audit. She wants the investigation to reveal more about the circumstances of inmate consent.

"We also want to find out, who are the women who have been sterilized while in prison? Let's break them down by race, by economic situation, by age, by number of children they have," she said.

Jackson is particularly concerned with the possibility of coercion in relation to the procedures. "One could argue, almost by definition, that being incarcerated takes away your ability to voluntarily consent."