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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Criminal Reproduction: Early Eugenics and Gendered Imprisonment in California

  • Author(s): Jogoleff, Christina
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

I am primarily concerned with the evidence that California led the nation in performing more than 20,000 compulsory sterilizations from 1909-1979 – this is more than 1/3 of all documented sterilizations in the United States. The history, taught in primary education classes and displayed on California’s website for teachers, students, and researchers, does not tell the story of Nazi scientists following and working alongside California eugenicists or how prevalent eugenics was within dominant ideas of economics, politics, and social policy during the early twentieth century. Instead, this period is described as “Progressivism,” and the ties with Nazi Germany are almost erased from public knowledge. It is precisely during the heyday of Eugenics that the first women’s facility is built in Tehachapi, when we see a shift from the pathogized woman to the criminalized one, and therefore eugenics should be included in a critical analysis of the prison industrial complex. Today, not only can California claim the highest incarceration rates in the nation, but two of the largest women’s facilities in the world are directly across the street from one another in Chowchilla. I argue that this accepted leadership should not only be something we are ashamed of, but that this history should be at the forefront of public memory and critiques of imprisonment, in order for contemporary racist forms of genocide to come to a halt. Looking at the parallels between the history of Eugenics and the upsurge of women’s facilities here in California exposes the intricate connections between their histories and their continued ideologies. Before demonstrating how prisons have become so naturalized within our society, I want to unpack how using Eugenics as a theoretical approach can be a tool to deconstruct its legacies within contemporary imprisonment.

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