Legislation sparked by a media report and a state audit that found female prisoners were being unlawfully sterilized in California's prisons heads to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk this week for the Democrat's signature. The worst allegations suggested that women were coerced into sterilizations.
The bill, SB 1135, would prohibit sterilization for birth control purposes in the state's prisons and jails. The procedure would still be allowed in cases of medical emergency or treatment of a diagnosed condition. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would also be required to provide the women with a follow-up psychological consultation and to report sterilization data on its website.
The bill received final yes votes in the California State Assembly and the California State Senate earlier this week.
Last year the Center for Investigative Reporting wrote that between 2006 and 2010, 148 female inmates in California received tubal ligations without required state approvals. According to CIR, former prisoners and prison advocates alleged that women were pressured into the procedure and that those deemed most likely to be incarcerated again were targeted.
A state audit, published in June of this year, confirmed 39 cases of women being sterilized after corrections officers did not follow the proper informed-consent process.
"It's clear that the law wasn't strong enough, and as a result, we need to make sure that the unconscionable act of forced or coerced sterilizations never occur in our prisons again," state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), vice chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, said in a press release when she announced the bill in February. "Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights."
"This is a victory for people inside the prison," Misty Rojo of Justice Now, a prisoners' advocacy group, told CIR this week. "It feels good to be able to go back inside and say we finally won. ... But I'm going to keep my fingers crossed. I'm not breathing until the governor signs."