Video: Contextualizing California prison sterilizations

I posted yesterday about the recently exposed forced sterilizations in California prisons. On All In, Chris Hayes explains why we should be outraged but not shocked by such reproductive coercion given the state’s history of eugenics and unconstitutionally cruel prison conditions, in the news again today thanks to a 30,000-strong hunger strike. The clip is worth a watch, but Hayes doesn’t take the obvious next step: forced sterilization isn’t only of a kind with California’s particular brand of mass incarceration but also with the inherent abuse of imprisonment.

Transcript, via MSNBC, after the jump.

>>> more than 80 years ago nazi theorists took their concept for the so-called masteries or at least developed it based on something cultivated here in our very own country. in fact, in 19 24 adolf hitler wrote “i have studied with great interest the laws of several american states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would in all probability be of no value or injurious to the racial stock.” he was talking about the concept of selective human breeding. one of those american states hitler wrote about was california. as a model to one the nazi’s own ugenics program. for more than half a century, california was the epicenter of the american forced sterilization movement. the idea here, of course, was to improve the human race by making sure that less desired traits could be eliminated from gene pool. at the time, people like adolf hitler believed less desired traits were exhibited by jews, people of color, prisoners, the mentally ill and other folks deemed unfit. forced sterilization was such a popular idea both at home and abroad that even united states supreme court endorsed it. in 1927, justice oliver wendell holmes who is a great hero of mine in many respects but not in this one wrote “it is better for all the world if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or let them starve for their imbicilety, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. three generations of imbeciles are enough.” state lawmakers finally banned the practice of forced sterilization in 1979 and safegards were put in place to make sure people are prized of their rights and no coerced into sterilization. the practice left such a heinous stain on california that in 2003 former governor gray davis issued a public apology stating “to the victims and their families of this past injustice, the people of california are deeply sorry. it was a sad and regrettable chapter in the state’s history and is one that must never be repeated again.” in a piece out yesterday, we now learned the california department of corrections and rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates between 2006 to 2010 without require state approvals. now, it appears some women agreed to the the procedure, though the state approval regulations weren’t properly followed. while in other cases it appears women only gave their consent during labor which, of course, isn’t really consent since, and i’m only speculating here, the pain of childbirth does not create the optimal setting for making an informed setting about one’s future reproductive health. according to the report, over a 13-year period the state of california paid close to $150,000 to sterilize these women. one of the doctors responsible for performing the procedures, a man by the name of james hemric said the cost was like a drop in the bucket compared to, “what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children as they procreated more.” but here’s the thing. sterilizing female inmates in california without the state’s a approval is the tip of the monstrous iceberg that is the california prison system. just last week, a three-judge panel doubled down on their order that california’s democratic governor jerry brown release nearly 10,000 inmates. conditions were ruled by the supreme court to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. so far, governor brown has refused to do anything about it and is appealing the decision back to the supreme court. and today, prisoners in california launched their third hunger strike to protest what they’re calling the subject to decades of indefinite state-sanction torture by a long-term solitary confinement. in california, inmates can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely, and in pelican bay state prison, nearly 100 inmates have been in solitary for more than 20 years. an expert on torture for the u.n. has called solitary confinement, “a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation. “in 2005, 44 prisoners in the california prison system committed suicide, 70% of whom were in solitary confinement.” today we look back and we gasp in horror in part because of the nazis it seems to clear to us this practice was an abject moral abomination. generations, our grandchildren will look back at the conditions of prisons in california and the oblivion of solitary confinement and mark my words, some future governor of the state will come before the citizens to apologize and express profound moral regret for how we treated the incarcera incarcerated. jerry brown can save that future governor the whole pathetic ritual by acting now.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at

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