Exercise your rights
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 following situations are of great concern to the American Diabetes Association:
- Law enforcement officers failing to identify hypoglycemia emergencies, mistaking them for intoxication or noncompliance. This can lead to the individual being seriously injured during the arrest, or even passing away because the need for medical care was not recognized in time.
- Individuals in short-term custody, for example, in police stations or jails before being charged with a crime, are denied all diabetes care, resulting in severe complications like diabetic ketoacidosis, which can develop in a matter of hours.
- Individuals serving their sentences receive inadequate care and develop serious complications like blindness, kidney failure, and loss of limbs as a result.
The American Diabetes Association has created and collected several resources that may be helpful for people experiencing this unfair treatment. Scroll down for relevant medical information and for information on the rights of people with diabetes.
Important note: There are often very strict time limits and procedural requirements for initiating legal action. In particular, if you are in prison, it is important that you comply with any administrative complaint procedures because otherwise your claims may be limited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. If you are challenging treatment you received during an arrest, you should investigate as soon as possible your state's statute of limitations for your claim. Additionally, many states require that you file a "notice of claim" if you are even considering a lawsuit against a city, municipal, or state entity. Sometimes the time period for filing a notice of claim can be three months or even less. If you do not give such notice, even if you may still have some remedies, many other state law remedies may be closed off to you
Educate your community
The best way to address mistreatment is to prevent it by educating law enforcement agencies. With your support, the ADA is helping to educate local police and sheriff departments about how to best respond to people experiencing diabetes emergencies, and how to provide adequate care to them while in custody.
Medical Alert Card (PDF)
Download, print and carry the Association's medical alert card. In case of an emergency, it provides law enforcement officers and other first responders with critical information to help keep you safe. This card is also available in Spanish.
Blood glucose logs
People in detention may not be given a log to keep track of their blood glucose levels. With this tool, a detailed record of all blood glucose levels can be kept independently of whether or not the facility employees provide a log.
Community Oriented Correctional Health Services
Many states are starting initiatives that permit incarcerated people to more easily connect to health care upon their release. For example, in some states, individuals can enroll in Medicaid while incarcerated so that benefits can begin immediately upon release.
Management of Diabetes Federal Bureau of Prisons Clinical Practice Guidelines
These guidelines only apply to the Bureau of Prisons. Managing security needs of the institution and the medical needs of inmates is a real concern, but these guidelines show that improved diabetes care in detention is possible. The Appendix has several inmate handouts that may be useful.
Prisoner Diabetes Handbook A Guide by Prisoners, for Prisoners
From the Southern Poverty Law Center, this guide provides practical advice for managing diabetes in a very challenging situation.
The Legal Right to Medical Care in Detention Facilities (PDF)
Learn about the rights of individuals in detention and strategies to obtain adequate medical care.
The Legal Right to Medical Care in Detention Facilities: Self-Assessment (PDF)
Complaints about diabetes care must be specific and well-documented. This document can be used to identify potential problems with diabetes care. Family members in particular can use this as a guide to determine what shortcomings in care there may be.
The American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project
The ACLU's National Prison Project provides many resources, including its Prisoners' Assistance Directory and many fact sheets on the rights of prisoners.
National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers Guild
If you have concerns about your treatment by law enforcement, the National Police Accountability Project provides many resources. The website includes a directory of attorneys who represent individuals alleging civil rights violations against law enforcement officers and agencies.
Law enforcement training
We help law enforcement agencies provide diabetes training to their officers. We provide many free tools, and we are available to speak with individual agencies.
Last updated April 2023