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WFAA News Dallas - December 18, 2019

"She {Holly Austin} needed to take an expensive drug to keep her alive. Her husband took nearly a month’s supply to the jail, assuming the staff there would give it to her."

TEXARKANA, Texas — By the time jailers at the Bi-State Jail in Texarkana sent Holly Austin to the hospital this past June, she was “blind” and “unable” to even sign her name on the admission paperwork.

She was in severe pain, disoriented, couldn’t walk and “unable to hold objects in her hands,” according to hospital records obtained by WFAA.

As Holly lay near death, the sheriff suddenly ordered her released from custody. The result? When Austin did die soon after, the private, for-profit company that operates the jail was not required to report her death to state officials nor was her death criminally investigated.

A WFAA investigation found the company, LaSalle Corrections, taking advantage of a loophole that allows jails to avoid criminal investigations into the deaths of some prisoners who become critically ill while in custody. The loophole allows authorities to release a prisoner, and then when they die, there is no requirement that a criminal investigation be conducted or that potential evidence be preserved.

Austin’s family, as well as jail watchdogs, say the loophole allows jails to hide cases of medical neglect and avoid accountability.

“They didn’t want to be responsible for her death,” said her mother, Mary Mathis, of Texarkana. “Once she started going downhill, they should have done something, but they basically ignored it.”

WFAA reported Austin’s death to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, prompting state regulators to launch their own investigation. The commission is authorized to investigate whether state jail standards have been violated, but cannot conduct criminal investigations. State jail regulators found that the medical care provided to Austin did not “meet minimum jail standards,” according to records obtained by WFAA.

Both LaSalle officials and the Bowie County Sheriff James Prince declined to answer questions.

For more than a year, WFAA has been investigating the way LaSalle runs its county jails in Texas. Investigations repeatedly have shown that the for-profit company’s guards and staff failed to give appropriate medical treatment to people who get sick while locked up in their jails. ...
Read full report at WFAA News