A five-person jury has been present for six weeks of testimony at a coroner’s inquest that has revealed the inner workings of the Hamilton-Wentworth detention centre and the circumstances surrounding eight inmate deaths between 2012 and 2016.
“It’s a monumental task you have,” counsel to coroner Karen Shea said in her final comments to the jury Wednesday, pointing to the deliberation process ahead.
It is up to the jury to determine by what means each of the eight men died. Evidence at the inquest has linked each one to drug toxicity. Pathology testimony lays out seven of the deaths as accidental overdoses and one a suicide but the jury must come to a conclusion based on the evidence before them.
Counsel worked collaboratively Wednesday to distil that evidence. A slate of 47 joint recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths is now at their fingertips.
The inquest has heard former inmates describe the jail as a “pharmacy” and a “party” because of the amount of drugs available inside the institution. Correctional officers have also given evidence that they frequently smell drugs on different units.
Video evidence revealed what appeared to be brazen drug use by inmates in one of the jail’s day rooms.
In response, counsel is suggesting the introduction of real-time monitoring through surveillance cameras so that correctional staff can catch drug activity.
The hope is that it can also assist medical staff when an overdose occurs. Security measures following an overdose could include the use of a dedicated canine unit, an institutional security team and the use of the full body X-ray scanner.
Testimony from a panel of medical experts at the inquest stressed the need for a culture change within correctional institutions — one that views time in custody as an opportunity to improve health outcomes. Many of the suggested recommendations attempt to address this.
Based on the evidence, lawyer Kevin Egan told the jury that the Hamilton-Wentworth detention centre appears to be “a place where anything but corrections take place.”
Egan, representing April Tykoliz, whose brother Marty died at the jail, said his client has waited four years to find out what happened.
Documents show Marty Tykoliz asked to be put on the methadone maintenance program for opioid addiction two months before his death but was denied based on the policy at the time.
In April 2018 the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services updated the policy to increase accessibility to inmates. The recommendation is that it be implemented immediately.
The lawyer representing the Prisoner’s HIV/AID Action Support Network (PASAN) that has participatory rights at the inquest also weighed in on what could be done to improve health outcomes from their perspective.
One of the proposals was met with reservations by some of the witnesses at the inquest. It seeks to place the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone in cells so that inmates have access.
“We can’t think small,” Vilko Zbogar told the jury. “These are people who are hurting.” But testimony has revealed concerns that the dispenser would not be used for its intended purpose and that it will become a security issue.
The joint slate of recommendations appears to take those concerns into consideration, instead proposing that CPR training be given to inmates who express interest.
The jury is able to adopt, dismiss or rework any of the recommendations that have been submitted to them. They may also create their own.
The inquest examining the deaths of Louis Unelli, William Acheson, Trevor Burke, Stephen Neeson, David Gillan, Julien Walton and Peter McNelis is expected to resume Friday with the jury’s verdict.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.