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California prisons allegedly pressured women inmates to sterilize

When a person is imprisoned for any crime, is it ever acceptable to coerce him or her into giving up certain rights and freedoms? In the past, it was common to enforce sterilization of prisoners, the mentally ill, and the poor in California until this practice was made illegal in 1979. Although also illegal to sterilize female inmates without state approval, apparently several doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation were not only illegally sterilizing women prisoners without approval between 2006 and 2010, but were coercing them into having procedures done that they may not have felt ready for.

Some former inmates and criminal defense advocates say that medical staff employed at the prisons targeted women they felt were most likely to return to prison, and repeatedly tried to convince them to undergo tubal ligations. One woman says she was sedated and strapped to a surgical table in preparation for a C-section in 2010, and a doctor pressured her then to have her tubes tied. It's illegal in California for anyone to be asked or pressured during labor or childbirth whether they want to be sterilized, since the pain and sedation may affect a woman's ability to make informed decisions.

The woman is now hoping to obtain a degree at San Francisco State University, and is a vocal advocate for female prisoners’ rights. She says other women may have felt the same despair over being treated “less than human” while under the care of OB-GYNs in the prison system.

Prisoners may be doing time for their mistakes, but like all people, they deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness, and not coerced into medical procedures because they are being judged for their past actions.

Source: Center for Investigative Reporting, “Female inmates sterilized in California prisons without approval,” Corey G. Johnson, July 7, 2013

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