A Hamilton family believes that a drug overdose killed a 23-year-old man who died at the Barton Street jail late last week.

The death is just one of several to happen in the institution in recent years, with a much-delayed inquest into inmate deaths there is set to take place this spring.

Brennan Bowley died on Thursday just after 10:30 p.m., said his cousin, Maggie Cleland. She told CBC News that the family believes Bowley had a pouch of cocaine inside his body and it ruptured, causing him to accidentally overdose.

"They lacked any kind of medical attention," she said. "He was asking for help in the holding cell."

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services confirmed to CBC News that a man was found unresponsive in his cell last week and treated by prison staff.

The called 911, but the man was pronounced dead by paramedics.

'Just because they are incarcerated doesn't mean they don't deserve to have the proper care while being incarcerated, it doesn't make them any less of a person.'
- Maggie Cleland, cousin

"It would be inappropriate to comment publicly further as investigations are underway," spokesperson Andrew Morrison said.

Lawyer Derek Martin was going to be retained to represent Bowley in court. He had been his lawyer in the past.

Martin says that Bowley was showing signs of illness in court on Wednesday when he threw up in the prisoner's box. He was then scheduled to be in court the next day, but was too ill to appear — and too sick to even get in front of a video camera at the jail for a video appearance.

"That's a bit of a rarity," Martin said. By that night, Bowley was dead.

"I've known him for several years, so it was quite a shock," he said.

Was he getting the proper medical attention? That's the real question."

Drug overdoses at the jail are a real problem. A sweeping inquest into multiple overdose deaths at the jail was originally called back in 2015. It was then announced for this month, only to get pushed back until April.

The inquest is supposed to examine the deaths of eight men who died in custody in the jail from 2012 to 2016.

Drug toxicity was a factor in all of the deaths. Since the inquest was first called in 2015, three more inmates, including Bowley, have died, while ambulances have been back and forth to the jail several times because of overdoses.

Inquests are called by a coroner after a death to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future. A jury can recommend procedures for governing bodies to adhere to, though they're under no obligation to do so.

Cleland says she wants to see justice served for her cousin, and everyone else who has died at the facility.

"No one should die alone in a jail cell, and in my opinion all those individuals are important no matter what they are in there for," she said.

"Just because they are incarcerated doesn't mean they don't deserve to have the proper care while being incarcerated, it doesn't make them any less of a person."

adam.carter@cbc.ca