May 15, 2018 11:05 am
Updated: May 15, 2018 12:40 pm

Barton street jail to assemble specialized search team

Hamilton-Wentworth detention centre

Ontario Coroner's Inquest

A coroner’s inquest examining eight inmate deaths at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre has learned that the institution will be cracking down on the flow of contraband drugs through the use of specially assigned officers.

It’s the final piece of evidence to go before a jury on the cusp of deliberating over recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.

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READ MORE: Expansion of naloxone program among changes coming to Barton Street jail

Barton Street jail Sgt. Michael DuCheneau told the inquest on Monday that he has been directed to create an institutional search team. The mandate, the jury heard, is to gather intelligence on gang activity and to disrupt the flow of contraband including weapons and drugs.

The inquest has heard from several correctional officers that they would like to search the cells and day rooms more often, especially when they suspect drug activity, but that it’s not always feasible due to staffing levels and the duties required of them.

Ducheneau testified that the incoming search team will be independent of general correctional officer duties, which include regular rounds and meal service. The team’s sole purpose, he said, will be to look for “sources of corruption” within the jail. It will involve a close partnership with the Hamilton Police vice and drugs unit, the inquest heard.

The search team, comprised of four to five officers, will also have a “rapid response” function. After a critical incident such as an overdose, this team, DuCheneau said, can be brought in to sweep an area of the detention centre.

It is an idea that has been proposed several times throughout the inquest. A number of the cases revealed several overdose incidents taking place at the same time or in quick succession.

READ MORE: Barton Street jail was a ‘hostile’ environment at time of inmate death, coroner’s inquest hears

According to Ducheneau, the team will take approximately four to six months to assemble and implement.

The inquest has sifted through evidence pertaining to the deaths of Louis Unelli, Martin Tykoliz, Stephen Neeson, David Gillan, Trevor Burke, Julien Walton and Peter McNelis. It will resume Wednesday with closing comments from counsel after which it will break for the development of recommendations by the jury.

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