The family of a HIV Positive woman who passed away in a Texas prison last year, after being denied her anti-viral medication and water, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. The family claim the abuse led to the 46-year-old women’s death.
“Her last 48 hours (in custody) were tantamount to torture,” Erik J. Heipt, the attorney representing Holly Barlow-Austin’s family, told The Washington Post on Friday. “She was beyond saving by the time they took her to the hospital.”
It followed after Barlow-Austin, who had a history of substance abuse, checked into LaSalle Corrections, a for-profit company that runs the Bi-State Jail, in April 2019 on a minor probation violation. At the time of her arrest Austin’s HIV was well-managed with medication, as were her mental health issues. However, by late May, she “could no longer walk or stand, and her vision was badly impaired,” according to the suit.
In June Barlow-Austin was placed in a medical observation cell and then on June 11 was transferred to hospital where just six days later she died from fungal meningitis.
In America privately owned Jails are relatively new, coming to prominence in the 1980s particularly in the South and West. Though the ‘build-and-fill’ aspect of privatisation has drawn concern from many. In 2017 alone, the private prison industry generated an estimated $3.9 billion in revenue.
LaSalle Corrections have previously faced several lawsuits relating to allegedly inadequate staff training and abusive or neglectful care, particularly related to health and medical issues.
Barlow-Austin’s suit alleges LaSalle has a history of hiring detention staffers with “little or no corrections experience, and it was foreseeable that the lack of such training would cause harm to inmates and detainees.”
Shocking footage of Barlow-Austin’s final days in jail showed her lying in her cell in distress, struggling to crawl, blindly feeling around her cell for food and knocking on the glass window in an attempt to summon help. Barlow-Austin was even being denied sufficient water, according to her attorney.
“The only way I was able to know, for example, that [Holly] only had three small cups of water during 48 hours is because I watched all 48 hours,” he said. “If you look at just the medical records provided by the company you would have no idea of her blindness, inability to walk, difficulty even crawling or malnourished state.”
Still unable to bring herself to watch the footage, Mary Margaret Mathis, Barlow-Austin’s mother, said through their attorney that “she can’t stop thinking about how badly Holly was treated,”
Mathis described her daughter as a generous spirit, willing to share whatever she had with those who needed help.
“She treated her nieces and nephews like they were her own babies, she loved her family, and made the world a better place.”