CA Approves $7.5 million Reparations for Sterilization Survivors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 13, 2021

CONTACT:

California Coalition for Women Prisoners: info@womenprisoners.org

Aminah Elster: aminah@womenprisoners.org, 415-255-7036 ext. 314

Hafsah Al-Amin: hafsah@womenprisoners.org, 415-255-7036 ext. 314

California Approves $7.5 Million to Provide Reparations to Survivors of State Sponsored Forced Sterilizations

Sacramento, California (July, 2021) — On July 12, 2021 Governor Gavin Newsom approved a state budget that includes $7.5 million to provide reparations to survivors of state sponsored forced or involuntary sterilizations under California’s eugenics laws from 1909-1979 and to survivors of involuntary sterilizations in women’s state prisons after 1979. Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo was instrumental in ensuring that the allocation was included in the state budget.

California is the first state to provide reparations to survivors who were sterilized while incarcerated in its state women’s prisons. California is the third state in the nation to provide monetary compensation to survivors who were sterilized under state eugenics laws. 

“The legacy of California’s eugenics laws is well-known and the repercussions continue to be felt,” said Laura Jimenez, Executive Director, CLRJ. “As reproductive justice advocates, we recognize the continued impact these state-sponsored policies have had on the dignity and rights of poor women of color who have been stripped of their ability to form the families they want. No amount of monetary compensation will ever remedy the wrongs committed but this bill is a step in the right direction in the state taking responsibility to remedy the violence inflicted on these survivors.”

Between 1909 and 1979, California sterilized at least 20,000 people under State law — accounting for one third of eugenics sterilizations nationwide. People with disabilities, Latinas, women, and poor people were disproportionately targeted for sterilization.

Staff Attorney Carly A. Myers stated, “After 4 years of advocating for reparations, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) is heartened that California has taken a necessary f step towards ending its legacy of eugenics. We are hopeful this marks a turning point in this State’s treatment of people with disabilities and others who have been targeted for reproductive oppression.”

Although the State repealed its eugenics law in 1979, coerced and forced sterilizations continued in State prisons into the 2010’s.  Attorney Cynthia Chandler, who has spent the last two decades advocating for imprisoned sterilization survivors, points out: “Forced and involuntary sterilizations have never stopped in California.  Lack of government accountability for its eugenic past made possible the contemporary sterilization abuse in CA prisons and more recently in the Georgia Irwin immigration detention center.”

Between 2006 and 2010, a state audit revealed that at least 144 people, the majority of whom identify as Black and Latinx, were illegally sterilized during labor and delivery while in custody in women’s prisons. 

“The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) hails this groundbreaking reparations program for incarcerated women and trans people who suffered involuntary sterilization while in California prisons,” stated Aminah Elster, CCWP’s Campaign and Policy Coordinator. “We hope this victory paves the way for other BIPOC communities to achieve additional forms of reparations in response to centuries of state sanctioned violence and abuse.”  Elster went on to comment, “CCWP and the co-sponsor organizations are committed to ensuring that all the eligible survivors of sterilization abuse are notified and able to apply for compensation under the program.  We are in touch with many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who should be eligible for compensation but there is a lot more outreach that needs to be done.”

Coerced sterilization of people in women’s prisons was the subject of the feature-length documentary, Belly of the Beast which was released in fall 2020. “I’m thrilled Belly of the Beast contributed to this historic moment and we will continue to shine a light on our nation’s dark past until these heinous practices are eradicated,” says Director/Producer Erika Cohn. The PBS re-release, in celebration of this historic victory, starts today on PBS.org: https://www.pbs.org/video/belly-of-the-beast-7puv5r/ and will be streaming for free through the end of July.

Sterilization survivor and film participant, Kelli Dillon, who is also the founder of the organization Back to the Basics says, “To this day, many survivors who were sterilized while in prison still don’t know that their reproductive capacities were stolen from them. With the launch of reparations, we will finally receive justice that we have fought so long for and the healing process can truly begin. It’s time.”

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This budget request was co-sponsored by Back tothe Basics Community Empowerment (B2B), California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), California Latinas forReproductive Justice (CLRJ), and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), in collaboration with the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab.