Know Your Rights

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. Individuals who have experienced these problems may to call us at 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383) or send an email to askada@diabetes.org for possible assistance. Family members of individuals who are in jail, prison or other detention may also call or email us. 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

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. American Diabetes Advocates throughout the country are helping to educate their local police and sheriff departments about how to best respond to people experience diabetes emergencies, and how to provide adequate care to them while in custody. Read more about this in our Diabetes Forecast Article Helping First Responders Spot Lows

Medical Information

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. You may also order packets of 25 cards printed on cardstock at www.shopdiabetes.org. You pay only the cost of shipping. 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.

Diabetes Basics
Learn more about the different types of diabetes, blood glucose testing, common insulin regimes, complications and more.

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.

Legal Information

American Diabetes Association Frequently Asked Questions: Diabetes in Jails, Prisons, and Other Places of Detention (PDF)
Learn about the rights of individuals in detention and strategies to obtain adequate medical care.

Questionnaire: Diabetes in Jails, Prisons, and Other Places of Detention (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.

  • Last Reviewed: February 27, 2017
  • Last Edited: May 12, 2017

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