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Did CCA's medical negligence contribute to Pamela Weatherby's death at the Dawson State Jail?

That's the question that Patrick Michels at the Dallas Observer asks in his hard-hitting blog post yesterday ("Family of Diabetic Inmate Who Died at Dawson State Jail Sues Private Prison Operator," May 18).  Michels reports that a lawsuit (attached) filed by Weatherby's family against CCA claims that despite her status as a "unstable insulin dependent diabetic," Weatherby was denied regular insulin shots (receiving instead oral diabetes medication) and a proper diet to control her illness while incarcerated at the Dawson State Jail.  According to the article:

"Within days of her arrival at Dawson, the suit says, Weatherby was taken off her scheduled insulin shots and given oral Glyburide instead -- ushering in "three consecutive days of diabetic comas," the suit says.

Mistaking the comas for a suicide attempt, the suit says, jail officials had her transferred to a mental health unit in Gatesville, where she was put back on insulin shots and stabilized -- only to return to Dawson after a few days, where she was taken back off insulin and her comas started up again.

At 1 a.m. on June 22, the suit says, guards found Weatherby unresponsive in her cell again; she was transferred to Parkland, stabilized, and returned to Dawson the next morning. Weatherby died July 14 after "yet another diabetic crisis", the suit says; an autopsy blamed effects from her diabetes."

Furthermore, the article quotes advocates decrying the state of medical care at Dawson generally, adding weight to the story:

"...Elisabeth Holland, a local nurse practitioner who runs Project Matthew, a faith-based medical program for incarcerated women, says she isn't surprised. 'My opinion is that the health care in Dawson is worse than in a developing country,' she says. 'Any of those diseases -- HIV would be another one -- that require regular medication with regular screening gets lost.'"

As we've reported, the Dawson State Jail was one of the TDCJ-contracted facilities originally mentioned for possible closure during this legislative session.  Instead, TDCJ quietly renewed CCA's contract for the facility last fall, and it now appears that no private prison funding will be cut this legislative session.

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