Monday, July 8, 2013

Sterilized By Force

The stories are unending. As if being imprisoned is not enough, some inmates are also being victimized, and exploited as if they are not human.

Nearly 250 female inmates were sterilized in California prisons without state approval, a shocking new report has found. Some women accuse doctors of pressuring them, including one woman who was already strapped down and sedated.

Between 2006 and 2010 at least 148 female inmates at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla received tubal ligations, the report by the Center for Investigative Reporting claims.

The doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation allegedly performed the procedure that is considered permanent but one restricted without approval for the last 16 years.

The report suggests another 100 inmates may have been sterilized between 1997 and 2006 as well.

Some women now claim they were constantly pressured by the doctors and targeted. At least one former inmate said she didn't believe she had a choice.

"As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done," Christina Cordero, a former inmate at Valley State Prison, said of the institution's OB-GYN Dr. James Heinrich.

"The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it. He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn't do it," the 34-year-old who spent two years behind bars for auto theft said. "Today, I wish I would have never had it done."

Cordero gave birth to a boy in October 2006.

Several former inmates of Valley State Prison, pictured, say they were repeatedly pressured to undergo the proceedure by the site's doctor.

Heinrich, 69, has denied claims of pressuring female inmates but in the report stands behind the procedure's cost in comparison to government welfare for unplanned children.

In other words these children don't get a chance to live because it has been decided that they are worthless.

Doctors were paid $147,460 to carry out the procedures between 1997 and 2010  a price he says is quite tame.

"Over a 10-year period, that isn't a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children as they procreated more," Heinrich said.

Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp., said no requests for tubal ligation were presented before the health care committee that's responsible for approving such restricted procedures.

The receiver's office was, however, aware that the sterilizations were taking place, records show.

"Everybody was operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do," Barnett said while accusing many of the doctors of believing they didn't need permission to perform it.

Nikki Montano, a pregnant mother of six when incarcerated in 2008 for burglary, forgery and receiving stolen property while battling drug addiction, had the procedure done after the birth of her seventh child.

She said she was never told why it was being done but agreed to it when asked.

"I figured that's just what happens in prison  that that's the best kind of doctor you're going get," Montano said in the report. "He never told me nothing about nothing.

Kimberly Jeffrey, who gave birth to a boy at Valley State, claims her experience was far more frightening and not at all invited.

While sedated and strapped to an operating table for a C-section in 2010, she says her doctor used the opportunity to try and perform the procedure despite her twice previous refusals.

"He said, 'So we're going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?'" Jeffrey recalled. "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."

Regardless of the procedure being done or not, it is illegal for a doctor to pressure anyone to be sterilized or ask for consent during labor or childbirth.

Jeffrey later provided hospital medical records proving her repeat refusal for the procedure in December 2009 and again in January 2010.

Today Jeffrey, who lives in San Francisco, speaks to groups working to improve conditions for female prisoners. She has also lobbied legislators in Sacramento.

If this isn't an extreme case of elitist Doctors playing God, I don't know what is.


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