Survivors of Forced Sterilizations in California’s Prisons receive $75 million in Reparations Bill

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed the state budget. Included in the budget is $75 million in reparations for survivors of forced sterilizations of prison inmates allowed under the state’s eugenics laws.

Kelli Dillon has fought against the California Department of Corrections since 2006, but the forced sterilizations in correctional facilities across the nation began 11 years ago. In 1907, Indiana passed the first eugenics-based compulsory sterilization law in the world. Sterilization abuse against women’s consent peaked in the 1930s and ‘40s. Then it rose again in some states during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Dillon is the founder of community empowerment organization “Back to Basics” in Los Angeles. In 2006, Dillon became the first survivor of sterilization abuse to sue the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for damages. In 2014, California banned coerced sterilizations which was motivated by her case. Her story is the subject of a new documentary titled “Belly of the Beast,” directed by Erika Cohn.

Dillon compared her story to the women in ICE facilities to this day when she shared her incarceration experience on Democracy Now. She was incarcerated at the young age of 19. After seeking a doctor for female issues in prison at the age of 23, she was told she had an abnormal pap smear. The doctor discussed that if they found cancer, they would give her a hysterectomy.

The doctor went into surgery to perform the cone biopsy procedure, an extensive form of cervical biopsy, and to remove some alleged cists. He then intentionally cut off the blood supply to her ovaries.

“In the days of recovery, it felt like something wasn’t right,” Dillon said.

She began to experience post-menopause symptoms after her surgery  When she questioned her doctor’s office at the facility, she said they gave her the run-around. With the help of an agency called Justice Now, and a social activist attorney by the name of Cynthia Chandler, it took Dillon and Justice Now a year or so just to receive the medical records.

“To everyone else, it may seem like a privilege to ask for a copy of the procedure that happened to you, but for us, we are withheld that information. And if we begin to press, we are reprimanded and also sometimes put in lockdown,” Dillon said. “We’re punished for going after those medical records.”

California will be the third state, According to ABC 7, to pay the victims of forced sterilization reparations and the first to pay formerly incarcerated women.

The reparations program will attempt to repay survivors of the state’s preceding eugenics campaign that came into law in 1909 and was repealed in 1979. State authorities sterilized inmates in state-run institutions that had “mental diseases which may have been inherited” and were “likely to be transmitted to descendants”. 

The law was changed to then involve “those suffering from perversion or marked departures from normal mentality.” Those targeted were often Black or Latina women, but some men were also sterilized.

“California established these egregious eugenics laws, that were actually even followed by Hitler himself, in an effort to curb the population of unwanted individuals or people with disabilities,” said the state assembly-woman Wendy Carrillo, who introduced the bill to create the compensation program.

She said over 20,000 people were sterilized, including those before 1979 and hundreds more in the prisons until 2010. Many survivors died, however the state believes around 400 are alive today, and a quarter are predicted to apply for the reparations.


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