It was only this past May that legislation was passed in the state of California to prevent prisons from sterilizing their female inmates. Before, it was considered an acceptable form of birth control. Now, it seems that inmates incarcerated between 2005 and 2013 have been permanently sterilized without the consent of their doctors and without their consent. This new information was uncovered during an audit of the prison system. It would not be surprising if some of the former inmates sought to sue the California prison system for pain and suffering and/or to bring criminal charges against those who performed the illegal operations, like that of sexual battery, which only requires that another persons private parts are touched for the purposes of abuse (CA Penal Code 243.4).
There are many things to take into account before performing a sterilization procedure on a female inmate. First, and foremost, the inmate must consent. That these women were in prison, and had temporarily lost many of their rights, does not mean that law enforcement officials working in the prison system have the right to treat them as if they are less than human. Second, there is a required waiting period before the decision to sterilize can be consented to by the patient. In many cases, this was not followed. Third, any person (inmate or not) who consents to being sterilized must be of sound mind and body and must be given the relevant information in such a way that it is understandable. The decision to be sterilized is a life-altering one and should not be taken lightly.
Most importantly, this signals a serious problem with ethics within the California prison system. Prisons are one example of what is known as an ‘inherently coercive’ environment, meaning that because inmates have none of the power while they are incarcerated, they cannot ever truly give informed consent, their decisions will always be affected by their place in the power structure of the prison itself, at the bottom.