California’s new budget includes a line item to pay reparations to incarcerated inmates and victims of the state’s historical eugenics laws who were forcibly sterilized against their will or without their knowledge.
The budget, which awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, proposes payments of up to $25,000 to more than 20,000 people who were sterilized under the eugenics law, which was repealed in 1979, and more recently in state prisons.
The eugenics movement, which was a popular public health strategy for decades in the 1900s, advocated “better breeding” by eliminating that ability in people who were considered unfit to reproduce. The strategy was embraced by 32 states and resulted in 60,000 sterilizations across the nation.
“Proponents believed sterilizing people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities and other so-called undesirable traits would improve the human race,” according to a report.
California’s program began in 1909 and was the largest in the nation, accounting for 20,000 sterilizations. The state-sanctioned program was so prominent, it inspired Nazi Germany to adopt disturbingly similar practices to help eliminate what was viewed as “undesirable traits” from being passed on to future generations.
Though California stopped the abhorrent procedures when the law changed in the late seventies, in 2013, the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that the state’s Center for Investigative Reporting had coerced 144 female inmates into tubal ligations between 2005-2013 while they were incarcerated.
California’s Victim Compensation Board will be in charge of the reparations program. Their budget calls for $2 million to find victims and $1 million for plaques honoring them. $4.5 million will be set aside for reparations to what is estimated to be 600 living victims. Relatives of deceased victims will not be eligible to receive funds.