Type 1, Going Blind in Prison

A woman with Type 1 diabetes says she is not allowed to test her blood sugar levels in prison.



A lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections and a private prison health care provider illustrates the health dangers people with Type 1 diabetes can face while they are incarcerated.

A special WCAV CBS19 news report from Charlottesville, Virginia tells the purported story of Taylor Gilmer (not pictured here), who is serving time for for conspiracy to commit a felony and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia. Gilmer’s family says she is not receiving adequate treatment to control her Type 1 diabetes, and that health care workers at the facility are treating her condition as if it were Type 2 diabetes. She is reportedly not being allowed to check her blood sugar by prison officials. In the news report, Gilmer’s mother, Tina, says that her daughter states she is losing her eyesight and her feet are turning purple.

The Virginia Department of Corrections changed its rules to block lead reporter Rachel Ryan from airing her interview with Taylor Gilmer. Attempts by Insulin Nation to contact Gilmer’s family and the lawyer that is handling her lawsuit were unsuccessful.

According to the report, Taylor Gilmer is joining a class-action lawsuit of 1200 women incarcerated in the prison. The suit is being leveled against the Virginia Department of Corrections and Armor Correctional Services, the company that was responsible for the prison’s health care services at the time of the lawsuit. The state of Virginia has discontinued working with Armor in May 2013. The lawsuit, as of late 2014 is still working its way through the court system, according to the court case-tracking site PlainSite.org. prison

The allegations of substandard care in the lawsuit could prove deadly to a person with Type 1 diabetes. Lawyers for the women filing the lawsuit say they are seeking relief for the prison’s “failure…on a systemic, pervasive and on-going basis, to provide its residents with medical care sufficient either in nature or in extent to satisfy the minimum standards mandated by the Eighth Amendment of the United States.” That amendment bars cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit alleges the prison doesn’t have adequate procedures in place to deal with either everyday health needs or emergency situations. One passage in the court document chronicles how prisoners must wait, sometimes in extremely harsh conditions, to receive their medication. Conditions include “having to stand outdoors in a single-file line at 3:00-4:00 a.m., exposed to rain, snow, severe cold or excessive heat on a nightly basis…With disturbing regularity, however, prisoners may stand in the Pill Line for one hour or more, under harsh circumstances, only to receive the incorrect prescription, or to be told that their medication was forgotten back at the Infirmary (sic) by the nurses, or is simply unavailable because delivery of the medication….is late arriving or (the medication) was never even ordered in the first place.” The lawsuit goes on to offer pages of allegations of medical neglect or inadequate care for the named plaintiffs. In one passage, for example, a woman who was vomiting and suffering from diarrhea was allegedly left in her own waste until she became completely unresponsive.

In a 2012 Associated Press report of the lawsuit, Armor Correctional Services referred all questions to the Virginia Department of Corrections. The department’s spokesman, Larry Traylor, defended the state’s prison health care by saying that many inmates come to prison with chronic conditions that have been long neglected.

“Once health care is made available to them, they often want immediate cures, despite their years of self-neglect,” Traylor said in the 2012 report. “If a doctor or doctors feel a procedure is necessary to preserve life, reduce deterioration of health and to follow a community standard of care, we will provide it.”

Unfortunately, allegations of inadequate medical care for incarcerated individuals with Type 1 diabetes are not uncommon. In a recent survey of news reports, Insulin Nation found five recent incidents in which people with Type 1 diabetes were not given the insulin needed to manage their condition.

It is vital for anyone with Type 1 diabetes who is facing prison time to get as much documentation as possible about their condition and their care regimen to prison health care officials before beginning their sentence, and for families of people with Type 1 who are incarcerated to frequently follow up to make sure their loved ones are getting the proper care.

For more information or for ways to advocate for improved health care for those in U.S. jails and prisons, you can contact the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at prisonerhealth.org or at brown.edu/Research/Prisonerhealth/resources.html.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.