Sterilization in California prisons

Gynecologist James Heinrich at Chowchilla – popcorn and crackers only part of the problem

The following comes from a Dec. 6 story in the Tidings, the L.A. archdiocese newspaper.

Last July a hard-digging reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) broke a disturbing story reviving an oft-forgotten, or hidden, dark stain on California’s history.

From the early 20th century into the 1970s, prison inmates and mental patients were regularly sterilized – by orders from a doctor or medical director where the person was institutionalized – to rid the Golden State of the “feebleminded” and “defective,” the disabled as well as minorities, immigrants and even, at times, the poor. More than 20,000 men and women, in fact, underwent these highly invasive and life-changing medical procedures, many against their knowledge or will.

Devout advocates of forced sterilization included President Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell and Oliver Wendell Homes, who – in a U.S. Supreme Court decision approving it – declared, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.”