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Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval: report

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2013

A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has found that doctors working at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female prisoners between 2006 and 2010 without required state approvals.

"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," the report said.

Doctors under contract at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla targeted prisoners deemed likely to return to prison in the future, the report said.

Crystal Nguyen, a former Valley State Prison inmate who worked in the prison's infirmary in 2007, said she often overheard staff asking inmates who were repeat offenders to agree to be sterilized.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, that's not right,'" she said during an interview with CIR. "Do they think they're animals, and they don't want them to breed anymore?"

The top medical manager at Valley State Prison from 2005 to 2008 characterized the surgeries as an empowerment issue for female prisoners, providing them the same options as women on the outside, CIR reported.

Psychologist Daun Martin claimed that some women in particularly desperate situations could commit crimes so they could return to prison for better prenatal care, thus taking advantage of the system.

"Do I criticize those women for manipulating the system because they're pregnant? Absolutely not," he told CIR. "But I don't think it should happen. And I'd like to find ways to decrease that."

Mr. Martin denied approving the surgeries, but at least 60 tubal ligations were performed at Valley State while he was in charge.

Mr. Martin's colleague, Dr. Jacqueline Long, declined to discuss the matter.

Since 1994, the surgeries have required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis, but no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such surgeries, Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp., told CIR.

"Everybody was operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do," she recalled.

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