CRACK: Sterilizing Drug Addicts Since 1997

Editor’s Note: A controversial non-profit offers financial incentives to drug addicts to be sterilized. This article originally appeared on Campus Progress.

Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (CRACK), a non-profit based in California, will give $200 cash to any drug-addicted man or woman willing to undergo sterilization. And they offer a more lucrative option for women: they will pay clients $200/year to take long-term birth control like Depo-Prevara or Norplant.

Barbara Harris, the founder of CRACK, established the organization after having adopted four children born to drug-addicted parents—something she claims her critics should try before they oppose her organization. Her mission: “Save our welfare system and the world from the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer for each drug-addicted birth” by offering “effective preventive measures to reduce the tragedy of numerous drug-affected pregnancies.”

Since its inception in 1997 in Orange County, California CRACK (also known by the more innocuous name, Project Prevention) has spread to several other U.S. cities including New York and Seattle.  Its website announces “Project Prevention Goes Global!” and adds that they are currently exploring and seeking other interested countries for possible expansion.  Though the original plan was to extend their entire program to its UK, the British Medical Association (BMA) has opposed the use of sterilization as part of CRACK’s program there.

Yearly, millions of children—many of who test positive for substance dependence—are born to drug-addicted mothers and are funneled into a bloated foster-care system, subject to both neglect and abuse.

The organization offers a solution that smacks of eugenics. In the 1930s Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate and early eugenicist, was interested in birth control’s usage possibility for population control.  While Sanger believed that birth control was a tool for all women, she was also a product of her time—a time when eugenics was popular—and she thought birth control should be used to reduce the population of “feeble-minded” people and the mentally ill. In the same spirit, CRACK is offering money to a highly vulnerable, economically depressed population it deems undesirable for reproduction.

CRACK’s website includes numerous letters from substance-exposed children who support her program, apparently trying to prevent people like themselves from being born.  Harris recounts that when she first became involved with the issue of protecting substance-exposed children, she sought the punishment of addicts who had children. “I started calling district attorneys’ offices and police departments, asking whether there was anything I could do as a concerned citizen, perhaps make a citizens’ arrest. I got nowhere. I was told there was nothing I could do,” she told People magazine.

When asked about the controversy surrounding her organization, she seems genuinely confused. “I really don’t understand controversy or people who oppose what we do,” Harris says. “I think a lot of people should realize they’re never going to be good parents, and never have children.”

CRACK’s methodology for attracting clients has come under fire from activists and concerned communities.  Their strategy targets low-income neighborhoods and includes messages such as the provocative: “Don’t Let Getting Pregnant Get in the Way of your Drug Habit.” As the program has grown, CRACK is increasingly getting referrals from publicly funded institutions such as prisons, probation centers, drug treatment centers and even hospitals. According to a recent Salon article, “Addicts who are directed to CRACK by public employees now account for a quarter of the program’s participants.”  CRACK’s increasing reliance on referrals from public agencies could have wide implications for the American public. 

Advocacy groups such as Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids have also questioned CRACK’s exclusive focus on those addicted to illegal drugs.  When it comes to the damage tobacco and second-hand smoke can have on children,“[S]moking during pregnancy creates a more serious risk of spontaneous abortion and a greater threat to the survival and health of newborns and children than using cocaine during pregnancy. It is also a much more pervasive problem.”

Other criticisms of CRACK, as highlighted by the organizations Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) and the Black People’s Project (BPP) in their work with the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment include the following:

1. CRACK ignores the interrelation of rape, abuse, and homelessnes with substance addictions.
2. CRACK lacks a complex analysis of substance-abuse issues (such as the social justice issues that contribute to substance abuse) and fails to demonstrate any comprehensive or supportive drug-treatment plan to help their clients end their habits.
3. CRACK’s program relies on coercion, financial manipulation of economically vulnerable communities and guilt. 

While guaranteeing access to safe and affordable abortions for all women is the most common refrain of the mainstream reproductive rights movement, we must consider other aspects of reproductive justice, say activists like Loretta J. Ross of the reproductive justice organization SisterSong.  In her essay, the Color of Choice, Ross writes that “in short,” true, comprehensive “reproductive justice can be described as reproductive rights embedded in a human rights and social justice framework used to counter all forms of population control that deny women’s human rights.” (The Color of Violence, edited INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, 2006)

For decades without the broad consent or debate, marginalized communities have been the object of population control projects administered by our own government and around the world.  The critics of CRACK urge us to abandon narrow definitions of reproductive rights only as the right to choose NOT to parent, but also to defend the rights of all men and women to become parents when and how they may choose.

Photo credit: Todd Huffman via flickr


Kalindi McAlpine
Kalindi M5 years ago

What if she were instead offered a treatment program and prenatal care, a new mother program etc. to keep her off of drugs? Imagine that! Seems many people wants to throw people away rather than offer real solutions, even when real solutions cost less money. That's why the US continues to wage a multi billion dollar failed drug war on it's citizens rather than spending less money to give them help and education. Anyone wonder why other developed countries have less violent and overall crime, less drug use, more education and this is happening in countries like Netherlands and Portugal where drugs are legal. Imagine that if you can.

For a fraction of what our government is spending on the war on drugs, they could be spending our money on treatment facilities and incentives to get people off of drugs and out of drug sales. The Netherlands regulates (not outlaw) drugs and almost every other developed country offers free higher education. We American's need to take an INFORMED look at the BIG picture and learn from example/ not continue on the same path to crime, destruction and suffering. We are repeating the very same mistakes decade after decade while the rest of the developed world is thriving and succeeding in the area of education, crime and drug prevention. Perhaps our problems have something to do with the lack of educational opportunities in our country. Guess we'll never know since people make decisions based on revenge and hatred rather love and inte

Ang H.
angie Harper5 years ago

I cannot in all honesty believe the mamby pambies who are so blooming out of touch with the real world, Brenda has it right, and is on the FRONT LINE, addressing the problems of these drug addicts. I also speak from first hand experience. Our adopted kids Ma had a mental age of 9....she was a victim of incest herself, as we her birth children.
If you have a child or in our case children, 9 and 7, ask them to feed, work, clothe, nurture, teach-ours could not read, write or hold a knife and fork.......IT IS BLOOMING IMPOSSIBLE. IT TAKES A PERSON WHO IS 100% COMMITTED TO DO THIS!
I get outraged when people who know bugger all come up with these....civil rights...STUFF OFF.
I would rather have been without kids in all, rather than have one mins harm come to them, I am talking about being deliberately starved of food, sexually abused, and that was from age 6 !!!!! and in the foster home by a 6 footer......who of course got away with everything......don't want to traumatise her further do we?????? Bollocks.......they even gave him a free flat!

Two kids, maximum......the Chinese had that one right. Anymore, and the state does not help. Free sterilisation for all and those who are drug addicts mandatory.

These people are costing every nation a fortune, and you can always say a big NO to the sex and the drugs, it is a free country.

Brenda S.
Brenda L5 years ago

I feel that if your child is born with any type of drug in their system that you should be arrested for child endangerment,

Brenda S.
Brenda L5 years ago

I agree with this program...l think that readers need to realize that this is voluntary, not mandatory...
I think that those in opposition need to look at the cost of caring for a child who is born to an addict...I work with these children for a living...I see the struggles they go through...and most are still with their birth parents and many are still living in the cycle of addiction...
I feel drug testing should be mandatory for those that receive welfare. I feel that if they are positive then they need to be mandated for treatment, and if they refuse then they should not be able to continue receiving benefits.
I know of a woman who is right now using her high risk pregnancy to keep her from prison...she was actively using crack cocaine prior and during her 1st trimester...she was on trial for possession with intent to deliver- she is high risk- due to diabetes...placenta previa..she was strongly advised to end the pregnancy due to the risk to herself, and the child...but if she did that she would have to start her prison sentence- so she didn't and now the state is responsible for her extremely costly care,a nd will be responsible for the care of the child if it should survive...she has been told the child will have severe MR issues and possibly physical disabilities----who will pay for that? we will, where will the child go? Foster care, if it's lucky, otherwise it will more than likely be in a hospital program....sad....

Sandra R.
Sandra Romito7 years ago

To Lisa Box: You came up with a lot of points I missed and you are absolutely correct in my opinon. I based my comments on my own experience. Right on Lisa and thanks for the compliment you gave me. Heres one back at you!. Sandra

Lisa Bxx
L X7 years ago

It is wrong to bribe and manipulate people who are mentally and/or physically ill. It is wrong to violate the human and civil rights of one person, because the rights of another future person may someday be violated. It is wrong to violate the rights of a sick or retarded adult in front of us, for the sake of the presumed rights of someone who is not yet born.

Disadvantaged minorities such as addicts and the mentally retarded need our help, not our manipulation and further marginalization. There are many, many people in the world who are unfit to be parents for a wide variety of reasons. We cannot simply sterilize everyone who may become an unfit parent, without their full understanding and consent.

Those who are not high or drunk, or otherwise cognitively incapable of giving full informed consent, are welcome to enter into discussions with a medical professional to determine whether sterilization is an appropriate option for themselves.

Sterilizing people who cannot give full consent, and bribing the poor and intoxicated to do something which they may someday deeply regret, are inherently unethical. Other more appropriate measures must be taken.

Nightmarish "Minority Report" deterrence of as-yet uncommitted wrongs is not the answer.

Lisa Bxx
L X7 years ago

We need to stop making it essentially a crime to be an addict, and get the money that would have gone to organized crime for selling black-market illegal drugs. We can make a profit on drug crops that are now illegal, and start treating addictions and addicts and promoting protected sex and adoption of unwanted children. Making street drugs illegal creates a criminal underclass of sellers and a population of uncared-for addicts. Legalization of street drugs frees up money for positive care instead of criminal organization profits. Sterilization of addicts does not stop addiction, does not stop crime, and does not get addicts off the street and out of dependent poverty. Sterilization of people who are not in full possession of their faculties is also a violation of human and civil rights.

Lisa Bxx
L X7 years ago

I just HAD this discussion in another thread at Care2 about eugenics, "pure" population breeding programs, and the like.

Want all governments, courts and hospitals to decide who gets human and civil rights and who doesn't? How about this: if your IQ is less than 140: sterilized. If you have any form of mental or physical disability: sterilized. Need glasses or a hearing aid? Sterilized. Need medication? Sterilized. Drink too much? Sterilized. If your average family income is under $100,000./year: sterilized. If you are not tall, blond, and blue-eyed: sterilized.

Ever seen the movie "Gattaca"? Not a great film in itself, but a good example of how a government eugenics program warps society and creates a new invisible underclass very quickly. Never mind past Nazis and the present Chinese government and other groups deciding what kinds of people are allowed to bear a child.

For the upside of seeing how someone with a mental disability becomes a good parent, watch "I Am Sam."

How can people here, at Care2, "humanitarians," not GET this? It's a matter of human and civil rights and fully informed consent. A twelve-year-old, a severely retarded person, or an intoxicated person cannot legally give fully informed consent to be irrevocably sterilized.

Human overpopulation is a global problem; but destruction of human and civil rights are also global problems that must be urgently addressed.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

The woman who founded CRACK sounds as if she had good intentions -- she lived the results of addiction through the children she adopted, ..... but the sterilization does seem extreme, and smacking of eugenics.

Shar W.
Shar W7 years ago

THIS is yet another example of the poor kids that addicts DON'T dump into the overworked foster care system:

A truly frightening and sickening story.... if this organization can prevent even ONE incident like this, it's all worthwhile.