Dying from Untreated Diabetes at Rikers Island

A pair of lawsuits alleges medical negligence in the New York City prison system.

Last November, the City of New York paid $1.5 million to settle a case which had arisen from the unattended death of an inmate at Rikers Island, the city’s pre-trial detention center. The suit filed on behalf of Carlos Mercado alleged that his symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) was misread as “dope sickness” (withdrawal from opioids or narcotics) or ignored. The suit, filed in federal court, named the city’s inmate health services contractor Corizon Health as a plaintiff.

Insulin Nation contacted the law firm that had filed the suit, but a spokesman for the firm had not responded by press time. However, based upon material posted on the firm’s website, a report from the New York Daily News and an inmate medical area surveillance video posted by the New York Times, we’ve learned that Mr. Mercado had first been confined at Rikers Island in 2007 and denied diabetes treatment. He returned to Rikers in 2013, and informed Rikers officials of his diabetic condition and was given a medical evaluation. He then asked for and was again denied diabetes treatment. He made his medical distress known repeatedly as he sank steadily over the ensuing 15 hours into DKA. He lapsed into a diabetic coma and died at Rikers in August 2013.

You can view the video below. Viewer discretion is advised.

This is not an isolated incident of medical negligence within the city’s prison system. Just three weeks after Mr. Mercado’s death, another inmate with diabetes, Bradley Ballard, died after his diabetes and schizophrenia medication were withheld throughout a seven-day disciplinary lockdown in his cell, according to a Village Voice report. Another suit settled by the city in November was over a claim that an inmate with mental illness, Jason Echevarria, had swallowed a disinfectant soap packet containing a toxic ingredient; he then pleaded for medical assistance, but was ignored by jailers until his death.

In 2015, New York Southern District U.S. attorney Preet Bharara has signed off on an agreement with the city to address a chronic failure of city corrections authorities to address mistreatment of inmates, according to a Politico report. Incoming city corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte also has pledged to improve inmate health care training requirements. It is not the first such initiative undertaken by a New York mayoral administration, and only time will tell if it will lead to tangible improvement in health care for those incarcerated in the city’s prison system.

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Jim Cahill is a senior writer for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. Before turning to writing, he was a lawyer in government and private practice who focused on consumer protection and regulatory law. He can be contacted at jcahill@epscomm.com.