Diabetic dying to get out of prison

Jane Wilson is 36 year old drug addict. She was referred to me for an alcohol and drug assessment after being charged with possession of methamphetamine for supply.   She started using meth about ten years ago and began selling to friends and acquaintances to fund her habit.  She had also been smoking cannabis since she was 14 – usually on a daily basis.  I interviewed her in July 2012 in Arohata prison – by which time she had been on remand for three months as her case slowly winds its way through the courts.

This is not an uncommon story – except that Ms Wilson has diabetes, diagnosed at the age of 11. So for 25 years she has been injecting herself with insulin on a daily basis and usually requires five injections a day.

Diabetes requires careful management.  Diabetics are supposed to test their blood sugar levels four or five times a day in order to know how much insulin to inject. A normal reading is between 4.00 and 7.00 mmol. Readings below 4.00mmol are potentially dangerous as the brain is being starved of oxygen – a condition known as hypoglycaemia. The patient becomes weak, anxious and confused and if the blood sugar level continues to drop, they may become comatose and die.

Diabetics generally carry barley sugars or something sweet to give their sugar level a rapid boost if it drops too low.  Soon after arriving in Arohata, Ms Wilson was given a supply of glucose tablets and the prison nurse gave instructions that she was to have these with her ‘at all times’. The nurse then went on leave for eight weeks. Apparently believing that inmates cannot be trusted, even with glucose, prison officers took the tablets off her and kept them in the office. So whenever her blood sugar tested low, Ms Wilson had to press the emergency button in her cell and ask for help.

These requests were met with a variety of unhelpful or insulting responses such as:  “I hope you’re not cunting us around Wilson.”  On another occasion when her blood sugar was down to 2.4mmol, an officer said: “We can’t be doing this every night Wilson.” On yet another occasion, about half an hour before dinner was due to be served, her blood sugar dropped to 3.4mmol. She pressed the buzzer twice and was ignored twice. She had to ask the officer who brought the dinner to give her some sugar as well.  Next day Ms Wilson told a nurse what had happened and was assured the officers would be spoken to.  Later that day, a male guard said: “We don’t appreciate being complained about so don’t be expecting any favours.” Another officer told her: “It’s not all about you Wilson.”

In the report which I provided to the judge, I pointed out that this situation was making Ms Wilson very anxious. She was so upset she cried virtually every day, and became so depressed she needed antidepressants. She was afraid she might die from a hypoglycaemic attack because the prison officers just didn’t care. In my report I wrote:

1)      Ms Wilson’s situation is complicated by diabetes. Her concerns about the quality of care she currently receives significantly exacerbate her underlying anxiety.  Ms Wilson worries that she might die in prison because prison staff either don’t care or don’t know how to assist her regulate her blood sugar levels – especially at night when medical staff are not available. 

 2)       Corrections Department rules make it difficult for Ms Wilson to gain effective control of her blood sugar levels. I spoke to the specialist diabetic nurse (at Kenepuru Hospital) who expressed particular concern about the last meal of the day in prison being served at 4:30 p.m. She said that to maintain control of their blood sugar levels, diabetics need to eat six meals a day and need supper before going to bed in order to avoid developing low blood sugar during the night. She said that ‘low blood sugar is an extremely dangerous condition’ for Ms Wilson.  

 3)      In a recent report on the health of prisoners, the Ombudsman reported that: “Prisoners continue to complain that the national menus implemented by the Department do not consider the specific health needs of prisoners, especially diabetics.” Ms Wilson’s GP and the specialist diabetes nurse both expressed concern about the fatty prison food which is not good for diabetics.  They both felt that the prison regime with limited physical activity makes it even more difficult for a diabetic to manage blood sugar levels which require an appropriate balance between food intake and physical activity.

After nearly four months on remand, numerous hypoglycaemic attacks and one emergency visit to hospital, Ms Wilson eventually appeared in Court. The judge showed compassion and released her on electronic bail while her case proceeds. But if she receives a sentence of more than two years, she will have to go back to prison where she will be exposed to the same kind of treatment all over again.

4 thoughts on “Diabetic dying to get out of prison

  1. so true and not an isolated case, which is unfortunate I have experienced the same sort of crap, did five years in side for something I did not do ( yeah I know some of you are saying heard it all before) but I would not admit to something I did not do so did my whole sentence (lag) because I would not show remorse…….anyway, for five years i was treated for bad heart burn or indigestion, having had several bad attacks inside, only to have one on the outside and find out I have been having gall stone attacks for five years…….also tested my PSA levels whilst incarcerated, was told a little high but nothing to worry about……yeah first blood test by my own GP when I got out and referred to surgeon for Prostate cancer, and a radical prosectomy so I agree medical help in our prisons is non existant and the guards in general are useless.


  2. Very interesting to note Jane Wilson’s sad experience, it is not at all surprising that Jane was denied access and control of her insulin medication which is essential to her life and survival. Diabetics require regular monitoring with glucose finger prick testing and often have erratic high and low glucose levels for a whole variety of reasons such as, hormonal changes, lack of food, an illness, stress to name a few, even her addiction could have impacted on her sugar levels, which also no doubt was not being addressed, she may have been made to go cold turkey.
    Type 1 diabetics should never ever have to wait for their insulin it could cause them to go into a coma. Prison staff should be educated in how to deal with an insulin dependent diabetic, not use sadistic threats and taunts when someone could potentially be on the brink of death! No doubt this isn’t an isolated case and “Corrections” should be ashamed of themselves. Yet another breach of human rights!
    In New Zealand over 170,000 are diagnosed Type 2 Diabetics, there are over 208,000 New Zealanders who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, about one third of people suffering with Type 2 diabetes are diagnosed.
    The effects of low blood sugar and uncontrolled diabetes is known to cause anger, irritability and irrational behaviour which can also be linked to crime statistics. Symptoms will also be exacerbated if alcohol has been drunk. If one third of Type 2 diabetics are diagnosed this may account for a percentage of the population behaving irrationally and not understanding why.
    If a diabetic is tasered, pepper sprayed, manacled or locked up aggressively it could cause potentially life threatening effects.
    A healthy diet is required for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics with healthy snacks available to assist and maintain stable blood sugars, long periods without food can lead to low blood sugar. These are not options provided by “Correction” nor would the option to purchase healthy snacks which prisoners pay for out of their own money be offered. Judith Collins and Anne Tolley do not believe that prisoners deserve to either eat a stable healthy diet, nor do they believe that should be able to purchase their own food and only sanction the choice of largely unhealthy snacks.
    The New Zealand government’s policy and treatment of it’s prisoners is worse than many third world Countries, it is even more despicable because of the perpetual denial and pretense of a seemingly democratic government who opts for denial,refusal to make changes, or to take on board and act on constructive criticism regarding the appalling sub standard conditions currently maintained by The Department Of Corrections.


    1. lol….i have diabetes also but am trying to live healthy as poss to keep it under control…even worse than that, i suffered a massive stroke at age 43 & being fully paralysed down one side, i was sent straight from hosp to rehab but at rehab the nurses & physio teams were critical of the govt as there were necessary aids to help people walk again that were no longer available as they said the govt “no longer wanna fund such shit”!! i worked hard & paid taxes for over 20 years before that happened & had never known hatred towards the greedy govt before then…now the govt dont wanna fund vaccines against meningitis for our youth as “it’s only a few kids dying from it here & there” no real need for concern!!


      1. & in rehab i was yelled at & called a “bloody idiot” from one of the kitchen hands after i wheeled my wheelchair into the kitchen after the floor had just been washed!(no signs were up) i should have been lined up & shot! i placed a complaint with the head superviser about being abused (after all, i was brain damaged) to which the staff (nurses etc) took offense to my complaint & i was then told i would have to have my own diabetic machine delivered to me & perform my own finger prick testing on myself for the rest of my time there!!! all with only one hand moveable!! it is sad to witness the great decline in care & concern for the public & feel tiz the govt that has lead to this


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