Already notorious for mistreating its prisoners, the California Department of Corrections has been tarnished further. The largest prison system in the nation, with more than 119,000 currently incarcerated, has been exposed by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) for sterilizing “nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010.” Over at least a 4 year period, without required approval, California officials ordered doctors to perform tubal ligations, a procedure that closes a woman’s fallopian tubes.
According to CIR’s report, victims and prison advocates claim prisons sterilized women believed to be more likely to return to prison. The report cites internal dispute over the surgery at the California Institution for Women in Corona, one of the two prisons identified as having performed the procedure.
Forced sterilization, once a commonplace practice in California, was banned from the state in 1979. On Monday night Chris Hayes delved into the history of “the concept of selective human breeding,” known as the eugenics movement. Hayes emphasized its American roots: “More than 80 years ago, Nazi theorists took their concept for the so-called master race from something that was cultivated here in our very own country.” Shockingly, Adolph Hitler thought of California as a model for how to run Germany’s eugenics program. The same program California used to justify the sterilization of 20,000 institutionalized men and women between 1909 and 1963.
And now it seems that an iteration of this practice has returned. In a sober conclusion, Hayes contemplates the similarity between the outcome of the eugenics movement and the potential fallout from sterilizing California’s female inmates:
“Generations hence, our grandchildren will look at back at the conditions in prisons in California, and the severe mental, spiritual and emotional oblivion of solitary confinement, and mark my words, some future governor of state will come before the citizens of the state to apologize and express profound moral regret for how we treated the incarcerated.”