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Civil Rights In Prison?


When 46-year-old Holly Barlow-Austin was detained in the Bi-State Justice Center jail on a probation violation on April 5, 2019, her vital signs were normal. Barlow-Austin was HIV-positive and suffered from bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, her white blood cell count and blood pressure were in healthy ranges when she was admitted to the jail, which sits on the border of Texas and Arkansas, a region known as Texarkana. The morning after she was incarcerated, her blood pressure was 118/73. She had no problematic vital signs.

Three days later, her husband went to the jail personally to hand over her medications, which were correctly labeled and showed up-to-date prescriptions. They included pills to manage HIV, depression, and bipolar disorder, as well as an antifungal. But jail staff initially withheld some medications and only gave her others sporadically, in a way that undermined their efficacy.

Soon after, she became seriously ill, complaining of a headache and a lump on her neck. Her blood pressure clocked in at higher than usual and she was placed in a medical observation cell in the jail.

Blood work performed by the medical staff at the jail on April 14 showed her white cell blood count at 87. The normal range in healthy adults is 500 to 1,500. Disturbing video footage shared with Reason by her family’s lawyer shows Barlow-Austin splayed on the ground of her cell, clutching her head. On April 30, she told jail staff her legs were numb. She was taken to the jail medical office, where they gave her Tylenol before returning her to her cell. Jail staff brought her to an outside mental health provider, who relayed the information to jail staff that Barlow-Austin had been fainting. In response, according to the lawsuit, a nurse on staff said that Barlow-Austin “pretends to be weak” and “knows how to play the sickly role.”

During this period, her husband and family were repeatedly told she didn’t want to see them, when in fact she appeared to be unaware she had visitors and unable to communicate her desires.

On June 11, Barlow-Austin stopped moving. Two hours later, jail staff called 911. Her husband once again tried to visit her at the jail, on June 15, only to be told she was no longer there. It took days for him to figure out that she had finally been transferred to the hospital.

On June 17, she was dead. Cause of death was listed as fungemia/sepsis due to fungus, cryptococcal meningitis, and accelerated hypertension.


In 2015, 35-year-old Michael Sabbie, who suffered from diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, told guards at the Bi-State jail that he couldn’t breathe. Guards reported him for “creating a disturbance” by “feining [sic] illness and difficulty breathing,” HuffPost reported. Guards threw him on the ground and pepper-sprayed him. He was found dead the next morning. A federal magistrate judge found the facility guilty of extreme medical neglect. “Here, the evidence shows that at various times during his confinement, the security officers knew Mr. Sabbie faced obvious health risks,” Judge Caroline Craven wrote. “She said there is sufficient evidence that several staffers ‘knowingly disregarded Mr. Sabbie’s complaints, thus acting with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.'”


Civil Rights applies to all people – not just all races or sexes, but all Citizens of the United States.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88–352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and later sexual orientation and gender identity.  However, this act is not the original application of Civil Rights, that distinction belongs to the Declaration of Independence.  In there it states “All Men are Created Equal.”  If we could not just preach this, but practice this then equality would be achieved in the Law of our Country.  This application of rights applies to all Citizens, including prisoners.

In 2018, John Hopkins reported that between 250,000 and 440,000 people die every year due to medical errors.  Those are deaths – not counting injuries.  Now imagine being looked in a cell at the mercy of a guard to take you to get care.  You don’t have a choice on the care you receive, nor can you go see a specialist if you need one without special permission.  This applies to all people – those simply being held, those charged but not tried, those found not guilty but not yet released, those guilty but on appeal. and those convicted.  No matter the category, they are to be treated equal as citizens of this country.  Their rights can not be violated by neglectful medical care simply because of their current location.  If you find yourself the victim of medical malpractice or a civil rights violation, please call Goldfinch Winslow at 843-357-9301.

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