In April, She Was Jailed on a Probation Violation. By June, She Was Dead
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, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
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.”
The Texarkana jail is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private company that administers jails and immigration detention centers throughout the country. This week, the firm was in the news after a whistleblower claimed that another facility run by the company has failed to follow standard protocol to guard detainees and employees from the spread of COVID-19. “They’re still not taking this seriously,” nurse Dawn Wooten told The Intercept about the immigration detention facility in Georgia. “Enough was enough.”
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