Texas Makes Largest Jail Death Settlement in Its History

Inmate Holly Barlow-Austin was denied HIV medication, lived 'in constant pain': lawsuit
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2023 9:42 AM CDT
It's the Largest Jail Death Settlement in Texas History
A photo of an inmate behind bars.   (Getty Images/ananaline)

The family of a female inmate in Texas who was allegedly denied HIV medication before dying has been awarded $7 million in what's reported to be the largest known jail-related death settlement in state history. Holly Barlow-Austin died in a hospital on June 17, 2019, after two months inside Bi-State Justice Center in Texarkana, where she was sent for a parole violation, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A lawsuit against operator LaSalle Corrections claimed the 47-year-old went totally blind and became unable to walk before being taken to a hospital. She spent her last week in jail "in constant pain, blindly crawling around her cell, dehydrated and malnourished, living in filthy and inhumane conditions, decompensating—with no medical help," a release reads, per HuffPost.

Barlow-Austin had complained of blurred vision that progressed to total blindness and numbness in her legs before eventually becoming unable to walk, as well as severe headaches, nausea, neck pain, and a large knot in her neck, according to the suit. Yet "LaSalle never arranged to have her evaluated by a medical doctor," the complaint read. Jail staff even accused Barlow-Austin of faking her symptoms, the family's lawyer Erik Heipt told HuffPost. Video footage shows the inmate was "struggling to move, using her hands to feel her way around the cell" during her last 48 hours inside the jail, per HuffPost. On June 10, her final day inside, Barlow-Austin was found to be suffering a hypertensive emergency, yet it was another 10 hours before she was allegedly taken to a hospital.

She died a week later of sepsis, meningitis, HIV/AIDS, and accelerated hypertension, according to the suit. "What happened to her was inexcusable," her parents say, per the Star-Telegram. "While no amount of money could bring our beloved Holly back, this victory will help give us some closure as we move forward. And we hope and pray that it will lead to changes in how our jails treat people in their custody and will save some lives in the future." Heipt says it's the largest known jail-related death settlement in Texas history and "should serve as a wake-up call to all private jail and prison operators," per HuffPost. LaSalle no longer operates the Bi-State Justice Center, though it does run 18 other correctional facilities in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. (More inmate deaths stories.)

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