During a 2019 visit to the Texas jail where Holly Barlow-Austin was in pretrial detention, her husband, Michael, noticed she was squinting. When he visited her four days later, she needed help walking and could not read the numbers on the phone used to speak to him through a partition. She was soon “physically disabled, unable to walk, and blind,” charged a lawsuit her family filed against jail staffers, Bowie County and the for-profit company that ran the jail on the border with Arkansas, LaSalle Corrections. She died on June 17, 2019, after weeks of inadequate medical care despite her worsening health, the complaint alleged. Last week, Barlow-Austin’s family reached a $7 million settlement, the largest known jail-death settlement in the state, according to the family’s attorneys, the Washington Post reports.
“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,” they said. “Because that’s what Holly would’ve wanted.” Erik Heipt, lead attorney for the family, said the settlement should be a “wake-up call to all private jail and prison operators.” LaSalle Corrections has previously reached settlements with families of other jail detainees. At the time of her arrest on April 5, 2019, Barlow-Austin was living with HIV and getting treatment for substance addiction. She also had been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. After Barlow-Austin was arrested for a probation violation, she was taken to the jail to await trial. When she had her first medical screening, she was “able-bodied, hydrated and well nourished,” the lawsuit said. That changed quickly. The lawsuit alleged that, despite knowing she was taking medications for HIV and her mental health, jail staffers denied and delayed giving her the prescriptions her husband had brought to the facility after her arrest.