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The Healthy Living Magazine

Diabetes Rights in the Justice System

Help for those experiencing discrimination in law enforcement situations

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People with diabetes have the right to be treated equally in all areas of life, including in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. The American Diabetes Association takes discrimination seriously and focuses on helping people with diabetes—people like those involved in these real cases:

  • A person with diabetes who is stopped for a traffic violation exhibits slurred speech and a lack of coordination. Law enforcement officers don’t recognize these signs of hypoglycemia, mistaking a low blood glucose emergency for intoxication or noncompliance. Because the need for medical care is not recognized in time, serious injury occurs during the arrest. Without treatment for hypoglycemia, death is possible.
  • An individual is in short-term custody at a police station before being charged with a crime and is denied access to lifesaving insulin. This results in a severe and life-threatening complication called diabetic ketoacidosis, which can develop in a matter of hours and requires urgent medical attention.
  • A person serving a sentence in prison receives inadequate diabetes care and develops nephropathy (kidney disease) that leads to kidney failure.

Education is an important first step in righting these types of wrongs. The Association has created educational materials and fostered a strong network of community advocates to help make people more aware of their rights and to educate law enforcement personnel about diabetes. Volunteers across the country continue to share with their local police departments videos and posters that explain the signs of and treatments for high and low blood glucose. Many law enforcement agencies have invited ADA volunteers to provide face-to-face training. Lawyers and health care professionals testify about the need for specific diabetes care for those in custody.

Online, the Association maintains information for people who have experienced discrimination in law enforcement and criminal justice situations and family members of individuals who are in jail, prison, or other detention facilities. Visit diabetes.org/policetraining to access these resources or call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383). People who are in custody may write to the following address for information about managing diabetes in prison and their legal rights: American Diabetes Association, Government Affairs & Advocacy Division, Attention: Legal Advocacy Assistance, 2451 Crystal Drive, Suite 900, Arlington, VA 22202.