Diabetes and Prisoner Rights to Insulin

Diabetes and Prisoner Rights to Insulin
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 10, 2019 9:00 AM

As any diabetic person can tell you, going too long without insulin isn't just a minor inconvenience. It can lead to a process called diabetic ketoacidosis, where the body starts breaking down fat too quickly, and the liver processes the fat into a fuel called ketones, which causes the person's blood to become acidic. Ketoacidosis, in turn, can cause dehydration, confusion, coma, and, if left unchecked, even death.

People with diabetes know this, but apparently, sometimes their jailers do not. Melissa Morris told Berkeley County Detention Center staff she was diabetic and needed insulin when she was booked into the jail on May 3, 2017. She then had to be checked into a hospital on May 7, 2017, having been given no insulin over the course of four days. And her lawsuit against the county says it's not the only time.

Reckless Endangerment

According to her lawsuit, Morris claims she had to be hospitalized three other times -- twice in just one week in October 2018, and again in November 2018 -- all because Berkeley County Sheriff's Office staff failed to provide insulin as she required.

"The defendants' repeated failure to provide such treatment, despite clear notice of her condition, recklessly endangered Melissa Morris' life and constitutes a deliberate indifferent to her constitutional rights," Morris' attorney Samuel Clawson told Live 5 News. "The defendants' repeated failure to provide such treatment, despite clear notice of her condition, recklessly endangered Melissa Morris' life and constitutes a deliberate indifferent to her constitutional rights."

Given that ketoacidosis can develop in a matter of hours, what are a diabetic prisoner's rights to insulin?

Serious Medical Condition

According to the American Diabetes Association, almost five percent of the prison population -- some 80,000 people -- suffer from some form of diabetes. And while the Federal Bureau of Prisons has issued guidelines for the management of type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, some state and county facilities have not followed suit. Federal guidelines stipulate that frequent monitoring of blood glucose up to three times a day is optimal for a diabetic patient on insulin, and even discuss when to recognize insulin is needed.

Additionally, the Eight Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment includes deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Courts have found that diabetes is a serious medical condition and that a prison official who is aware of a substantial risk of harm from lack of medical attention can be liable.

If you have diabetes, or any other medical condition, and are having trouble obtaining medication or medical treatment behind bars, talk to a local attorney about your legal options today.

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