Lawmakers seek safeguards against sterilization of prison inmates

Inmates watch TV at the California Institution for Women in Chino in a file photo.
(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- Advocates for women prison inmates called Tuesday for state law to be changed to make sure convicts are not subject to sterilization surgery for birth control, and oversight over medical care is improved.

The proposal by members of the group Justice Now was made at a legislative hearing into reports that 148 women in California prisons were given tubal ligation surgery without the required approval of a state medical committee during a five-year period ending in 2010. The group called Tuesday for a state apology and reparations.

Some women said they felt coerced into having the surgery, which is not surprising given the setting, according to Nora Wilson, a staff attorney for Justice Now. “In a coercive prison setting there is total control over a person,” Wilson told members of the Senate Public Safety Committee. “Consent in that environment cannot be relied upon.”


J. Clark Kelso, the receiver for prison medical care appointed by a federal court, said the practice was stopped in 2010 as soon as it came to his attention. He had medical experts look at the records.

“The determination I was given is that most of them [surgeries] would not have been medically necessary and we put a stop to it,” Kelso told the committee.

Senators at the hearing said they would request a state audit of the process and support legislation to protect against future abuse.

“It needs to be clear and it needs to be in law,” said Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), the committee chairwoman.


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