Doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates from 2006 to 2010 without required state approvals, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years — and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.
One former Valley State inmate who gave birth to a son in October 2006 said the institution’s OB-GYN, Dr. James Heinrich, repeatedly pressured her to agree to a tubal ligation.
“As soon as he found out that I had five kids, he suggested that I look into getting it done. The closer I got to my due date, the more he talked about it,” said Christina Cordero, 34, who spent two years in prison for auto theft. “He made me feel like a bad mother if I didn’t do it.”
Cordero, released in 2008 and now living in Upland, agreed to the procedure. “Today,” she said, “I wish I would have never had it done.”
Heinrich insists that he didn’t pressure any of the women and said that the $147,000 paid to local doctors for the procedure “isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more.”
Since 1994, sterilizations using state funds have required approval on a case-by-case basis from medical officials in Sacramento — but no such requests have come before the approval committee since the receiver began overseeing medical care in 2006. While Valley State medical manager Daun Martin denies approving the surgeries at her prison, contract records show that at least 60 tubal ligations were done there while she was in charge.
Martin, they Valley State Prison medical manager, said she and her staff had discovered the procedure was restricted five years earlier. Someone had complained about the sterilization of an inmate, Martin recalled. That prompted Martin to research the prison’s medical rules.
Martin told CIR that she and Heinrich began to look for ways around the restrictions. Both believed the rules were unfair to women, she said.
“I’m sure that on a couple of occasions, (Heinrich) brought an issue to me saying, ‘Mary Smith is having a medical emergency’ kind of thing, ‘and we ought to have a tubal ligation. She’s got six kids. Can we do it?’” Martin said. “And I said, ‘Well, if you document it as a medical emergency, perhaps.’”
Heinrich said he offered tubal ligations only to pregnant inmates with a history of at least three C-sections. Additional pregnancies would be dangerous for these women, Heinrich said, because scar tissue inside the uterus could tear.
Former inmates tell a different story.
Michelle Anderson, who gave birth in December 2006 while at Valley State, said she’d had one prior C-section. Anderson, 44, repeatedly was asked to agree to be sterilized, she said, and was not told what risk factors led to the requests. She refused.
Nikki Montano also had had one C-section before she landed at Valley State in 2008, pregnant and battling drug addiction.
Montano, 42, was serving time after pleading guilty to burglary, forgery and receiving stolen property. The mother of seven children, she said neither Heinrich nor the medical staff told her why she needed a tubal ligation.
“I figured that’s just what happens in prison — that that’s the best kind of doctor you’re going to get,” Montano said. “He never told me nothing about nothing.”