01/22/2004

Settlement Benefiting Diabetic Inmates is Model for Nation

Diabetic inmates in Alabama prisons will receive desperately needed medical attention under a recent lawsuit settlement that can serve as a model for the nation. The agreement, signed by U. S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson on January 15, sets a precedent for management and care of diabetic prisoners that is a first in the nation.

An investigation last year by the Center's legal team revealed a shocking lack of basic care for diabetic inmates incarcerated by the Alabama Department of Corrections. One diabetic had a series of seizure-like convulsions but had never been evaluated by a prison doctor to determine the best way to control his blood sugar.

That inmate is just one of the 2,000 Alabama prisoners who will benefit from the settlement in the class action Gaddis v. Campbell suit filed by Center attorneys in April over substandard medical care provided to diabetic inmates.

"This settlement agreement is groundbreaking because it implements the most recent professional medical standards in the country and is very specific about how to carry them out," said Center legal director Rhonda Brownstein.

Before the lawsuit, medical care provided to Alabama inmates with diabetes was horribly inadequate. The then-medical contractor hired by the Department of Corrections failed to promptly diagnose inmates with diabetes, adequately monitor blood sugar levels, treat injuries or infections, or administer necessary tests to evaluate whether the disease was causing other problems.

Due to this lack of care, some inmates had toes amputated and experienced loss in vision. They were also at a greater risk for kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, and even death.

"The settlement will literally save lives," said Brownstein. "It's bringing the Department of Corrections into the 21st century in terms of treating diabetes."

Alabama prisons have already begun implementing changes to meet the standards set by the American Diabetes Association. The Center will closely monitor the Department of Corrections' progress in complying with the terms of the settlement agreement.