Female Prison Inmates Sterilized Illegally, Audit Confirms

The California state auditor today blasted federal and state oversight of sterilization surgeries for female prison inmates, finding numerous illegal surgeries and violations of the state’s informed-consent law.

Of the 144 tubal ligations performed on inmates from fiscal years 2005-06 to 2012-13, auditors found, more than a quarter – 39 – were done without lawful consent, according to the report by State Auditor Elaine Howle. The “true number” of illegal procedures might be higher, the audit said, because auditors found seven cases at one hospital for which health records were lost in a routine purging.

The findings “made me sick to my stomach,” said state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, who was the first to call for the Medical Board of California to investigate the surgeries after The Center for Investigative Reporting broke the story nearly a year ago. That probe has not been completed.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates have claimed that prison medical staffers coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison after they were released. The new audit notes that all women receiving tubal ligations in state prisons from 2005 to 2013 had been incarcerated at least once before. However, prison medical officials have denied any ill intent.

In addition, the audit found:

  • Inmates receiving tubal ligations typically were between 26 and 40 and had been pregnant five or more times before being sterilized. Fifty white women, 53 Latino women, 35 black women and six women classified as “other” received the procedure.
  • Most of the women tested at less than a high school level of reading proficiency, the report stated, with about one-third of the inmates who received the surgery reading below the sixth-grade level.
  • In 27 cases, the inmate’s physician – the person who would perform the procedure in a hospital or an alternate physician – did not sign the required consent form asserting that the patient appeared to be mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure and that the required waiting period had been satisfied.