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CRYSTAL NGUYEN: “It’s scary to know that your life’s in someone’s hands like that and they could just do whatever they want, without, your consent.”
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“I would never forget it . I felt literally less than a woman. Oh my god I can’t even explain emotionally I was like … I cried and I cried I was like, they took part of my womanhood. I was really messed up for a while.
Sterilized Behind Bars
Lower thirds -
Ana Kasparian - Reporter, The Young Turks
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D - Santa Barbara
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R - Twin Peaks
Cynthia Chandler, Justice Now
Corey Johnson - Reporter - The Center for Investigative Reporting
ANA / NARRATION: In the summer of 2013, The Center for Investigative Reporting broke the disturbing story about the sterilization of women in California prisons…
a story that prompted hearings in the state capitol.
… [sound up of hearing]
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D - Santa Barbara - “When a recent Center for Investigative Report story broke claiming that women in the California prison system were undergoing sterilizations, many of us were shocked and outraged”
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R - Twin Peaks - “I think this is something that unites all of us to protect the civil rights of people who are not free.
ANA / NARRATION: In the gallery was the reporter who broke the story, Corey Johnson. He found that between 2006 and 2010 148 women were sterilized in California’s prisons.
Cynthia Chandler, Justice Now - The state has admitted that it has done these illegal surgeries but we don’t actually know who they did them on.
Corey Johnson: “What we found thus far in the reporting is that there were rules in place, and that the officials involved in recommending these procedures to the women knew that the rules were in place, and consciously decided to break the rules.”
ANA / NARRATION: How was this allowed to happen?
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ANA / NARRATION: To understand how, it’s important to look at California's long history of state sponsored sterilizations, and even eugenics.
Ana’s PTC: If you look back as early as 1909 there was this doctor by the
name of Leo Stanley who went into prisons and literally
removed the testicles of male inmates and replaced them with
testicles of men who had died, but were deemed socially fit and
he had sterilized as much as 600 men in the state of California.
And if you look at California as a whole, you'll notice it was
actually the worst state when it came to the eugenics program.
They basically sterilized as many as 20,000 people and
accounted for about 1/3 of the sterilizations in the entire
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Corey - “That was my initial impetus, to look at sterilizations that occurred in the early 1900s.
ANA / NARRATION: The Nazis modeled their eugenics programs on theories developed in California. Scientists at Stanford promoted sterilization as a way to improve society and even traded papers in the 1930s with their Third Reich counterparts.
Corey: As I'm digging to try to learn more about historical Eugenics, I get this tip that perhaps there was more current-day sterilizations that had taken place, and that these sterilizations may have occurred in the prisons.
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ANA / NARRATION: In the 1970s, sterilizations were prohibited at all state institutions, unless they were medically necessary.
Finally in 1995 even clearer regulations were put in place to close this chapter in California’s history.
But Corey began investigating suspect sterilizations that occurred as recently as 2010.
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Corey - “So I reached out and I cast my net really wide and I took trips all across the state // But for a lot of people, talking about whether they were sterilized is a very tough thing to do.
There's a lot of shame that's around it, there's a lot of guilt, there's a lot of hurt, there's a lot of pain.
ANA / NARRATION: Corey interviewed several women for his report. These are extracts from what they told him, read out by actors.
Woman 1 - “He said, ‘So we’re going to be doing this tubal ligation, right?’ … I’m like, ‘Tubal ligation? What are you talking about? I don’t want any procedure. I just want to have my baby.’ I went into a straight panic.”
Woman 2 - “I figured that’s just what happens in prison – that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going to get,” “He never told me nothing about nothing.”
Woman 1 - “One of his nurses asked me ‘how many kids do you have?’ She said “7?!" like she was just so appalled // I felt humilIated and insulted you know … I made a mistake and I'm here but I love my kids … Being treated like I was less than human produced in me a despair,”
Sound up: This is the drawer for the destruction of reproductive capacity.
ANA / NARRATION: Justice Now, a legal aid organisation in Oakland, began documenting cases of prison sterilizations several years ago.
Courtney: And we started to receive reports from people about having gone in for different kinds of reproductive care or surgeries and coming out without their ovaries, coming out without their uterus …
ANA / NARRATION: The allegations they gathered from former inmates are shocking, but difficult to verify.
This is what the women told Justice Now, again read by actors.
"I finally got sent to Madera Hospital to get a tonsillectomy, and I met five
women from Valley State Women’s prison getting hysterectomies within a 24 hour period. There's a joke going around that Madera is selling womens’ uteruses."
I went to the library and I picked up a few things on hysterectomies. And when I read the pamphlet it had nothing to do with why i had my hysterectomy. When I went back to my paperwork it said: ‘prolapsed uterus.’ He never told me anything about that … So I wonder if that’s what he had to write to get the hysterectomy approved?”
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Corey: So when I heard stories like these, naturally, you know, I tried to check them out.
ANA / NARRATION: Corey analyzed records of the most common methods of sterilization carried out in California’s prisons over the last fourteen years.
He found a system riddled with questionable procedures and noticed that in 2006, the sterilizations spiked. That was when Dr. James Heinrich became the chief OB-GYN at Valley State Prison.
Lower third - Crystal Nguyen - former inmate
Crystal Nguyen: “Hello my name is Crystal Nguyen I spent five and a half years at Valley State Prison for Women which was in Madera, California.”
ANA / NARRATION: Crystal was serving time for her part in an armed robbery committed by her boyfriend. At 19 Crystal found herself pregnant and behind bars.
Crystal: Dr. Heinrich was the main GYN doctor there at the time when I first got there. When I first saw him, he looked, like ‘oh, he looks like a nice guy, but when I would ask him questions about my pregnancy he would laugh at it and make me feel stupid
ANA / NARRATION Crystal was under Dr. Heinrich’s care during her pregnancy. Her baby was taken away less than three days after she gave birth.
Crystal: when they came and they got him, I felt like I was really alone now.
ANA / NARRATION: She was then assigned a job in the prison’s infirmary.
Which meant working under Dr. Heinrich, where she witnessed first hand how he persuaded women to be sterilized.
Crystal: Well, sometimes
ANA / NARRATION: Crystal wasn’t surprised that women felt they had been coerced by their doctor.
Crystal: Inside of prison, // Basically once you’re in there, it’s as if you’re treated as um, as an animal, as, that you have no rights.
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ANA / NARRATION: We were told Dr. Heinrich was too ill to speak to us for this film. In an earlier interview, he denied pressuring anyone and said the money spent to perform these operations in prison was small “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children -- as they procreate more.”
In 2006, the same year Heinrich was hired, Federal Courts found that medical care in California prisons violated the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The Courts set up what they call a Federal Receiver’s Office. It’s job is to oversee the medical care for all the inmates in California. They’re responsible for enforcing the ban on sterilizations.
However, according to a 2008 document from the Receiver’s Office itself, they knew sterilizations were continuing.
Justice Now says this raises serious concerns about whether the Receiver’s Office was doing its job.
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Courtney Hooks: What we know is that between 2006 and 2010 116 tubal ligations were performed at least. The federal receiver documented this and 50 of those happened between 2008 and 2010.
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ANA / NARRATION: The California Department of Corrections told us that any questions about sterilizations must be directed to the Receiver’s Office.
Lower third -
Joyce Hayhoe - California Correctional Health Care Services
Ana - PTC -
investigate this until 2010 when there was evidence indicating that they knew it was going on as early as 2008.
Joyce - First of all I just want to mention that no. 1 under the regulations a tubal ligation shouldn’t be performed. But what we can see from going back and looking at the cases that were being performed is that inmates were asked as part of a service being provided to them whether or not they wanted to have a tubal ligation and if so it appears that the inmates were being provided with an informed consent form and talked to with regard to the procedure that was being offered to them.
Ana: So have you spoken to the doctors are they being investigated and will there be any consequences for their role in these tubal ligations?
Joyce - With all of the information that we provided to our doctors and all of the patient education with our patient education with our doctors, a doctor now performing a tubal ligation in our system would be very egregious and absolutely would be something that would be dismissible offense.
Joyce - We have no information at this time that any procedure was ever forced on a female. Were these procedures inappropriate? Absolutely, but were they forced? Every indication we have is that this has not happened.
ANA / NARRATION: When I gave Joyce specific examples of women who did feel coerced, she wouldn’t talk about them, claiming patient privacy.
Joyce - So we are having the audit to specifically look into these cases, so I can’t specifically talk about each individual case due to HIPA regulations, but we know that the audit will delve into each procedure to determine what happened and why.
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ANA / NARRATION: The audit is still ongoing and the findings will be due out early next year according to the state house.
At Justice Now, there’s concern that the entire issue may be brushed under the rug.
Lower third - Misty Rojo - former inmate
Ana at Justice Now: I spoke to Joyce Heyho from the Receiver’s Office and she basically said that they are putting certain regulations in place to prevent this type of intimidation behind bars.
Misty Rojo: Yeah, that’s interesting that she says that and again it is really hard, I mean, I’m not saying that Joyce Heyho is a liar or that she doesn’t know what she is talking about, but you have to remember that she wasn’t working there during those years.// People are still being // coerced. // because we’re throw-away, we’re cast out of society, we were locked away from society so we’re basically society’s trash in a lot of their eyes, so it’s easy for them to just treat us as such.
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ANA / NARRATION: Misty Rojo knows this first hand, she served nearly nine years for attempted murder at Valley State Women’s Prison. She says, at the heart of the sterilization issue is “informed consent.” When prison doctors ask you to sign a form, it’s not as cut and dry as it may seem to those who have never been locked up.
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ANA / NARRATION: The hearings last August in California were a first step in state efforts to uncover what really happened with these sterilizations behind bars.
Corey: They had representatives of the Federal Court, the Receiver’s Office show up, // it was a packed room, there was a lot of emotion in the room.
Misty at Hearing: We you’re in prison, you do what you’re told to get out, period. So even in the idea of medical care, if a doctor tells you you should do this, you’re automatically inclined to feel that you should do it, simply because of the environment that you are in. And you are likely to sign a paper without fully understanding the life-long ramifications, especially if they hand you a paper, you sign it, that’s it. Some people may be happy with that decision, but at the end of the day it is not informed consent, and it is coercive. Thank you.
Corey: But in terms of detailed answers into why this practice had been going on in violation of the rules possibly goin all the way back from the early 90s, we didn’t get any closer to getting any answers in that hearing at all.
HeyHo at Hearing: … I guess what I’m trying to say is, we had a regulation in place and for some reason that regulation was not followed. And so we had some conflicting information going out to the people within the department and we that that’s an important part of the story.
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ANA / NARRATION: Shortly after the hearings, we obtained this letter showing that the California Medical Board is investigating the now-retired Dr. Heinrich.
Crystal - “It’s scary to know that your life’s in someone’s hands like that and they could just do whatever they want, without, your consent.”
Misty: the ultimate dream would be for them to pass a bill to further clarify laws so that they know no one can do this ever. I would love for the doctors to have to take responsibility for the surgeries that they did do, and I would like for the people whom this happened to, to know that this was not supposed to happen to them.
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Presenter - Ana Kasparian
Reporter - Corey G. Johnson and
Director & Producer - Chavala Madlena
Producer & Editor - David Ritsher
Assistant Producer & Camera Operator - Sharon Pieczenik
Executive Producers - Stephen Talbot and Sharon Tiller
Director of Digital Media - Susanne Reber
Additional Camera - Roberto Daza
Production Assistants - Rachel de Leon, Owen Wesson and Jessica Naudziunas
Chief Operating Officer for TYT - Steve Oh
Senior Editor for CIR - Amy Pyle
Editorial Director for CIR - Mark Katches
Voice Actors - Margo Hall, Cassie Newman, Sarita Ocon, Allegra Bandy and Daffodil Altan