The sterilization procedures cost California taxpayers $147,460 between 1997 and 2010. The doctors at the prison argue it is money well-spent.
Dr. James Heinrich, an OB-GYN at Valley State Prison for Women, said, “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.”
Although such procedures may seem harsh, they are not illegal. The Supreme Court ruled in 1927 that women can be forcibly sterilized in jail in Buck vs Bell. Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Holmes wrote, “We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.”
In the California prisons, the jailed women are not being forced to be sterilized. But the women say they get pressured by the doctors to make the decision. One inmate said, “I figured that’s just what happens in prison – that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going get.”
There is a regulation in California that requires state approval for each sterilization procedure. Doctors at the prison were able to get around that, however. The prison medical manager said she signed off on the sterilizations since Heinrich listed them as a “medical emergency.”
Do you think these sterilizations are wrong? On one hand, the very idea is somewhat disturbing. On the other hand, however, it likely does prevent more generations of (expensive) children exposed to drug and crime filled lives.