'Lots of drugs' in Hamilton Barton Street jail, former inmate testifies at inquest

A former inmate at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre testified at the overdose death inquest that drugs are very prevalent inside the facility.

William Acheson was 'otherwise healthy' before he died from heroin poisoning in 2012

William Acheson was found unresponsive in cell 18 on a fifth floor unit at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre in September 2012. His cell was photographed a couple of hours after his death. (Exhibit brief for William Acheson)

Kenneth Albert banged on the cell door for help when he found his cell mate unresponsive the morning of Sept. 12, 2012.

He said William Acheson had snorted a line of heroin offered by a new inmate the night before, a "very minimal" amount.

"The size of a pubic hair and that was it," he said.

Acheson died from heroin poisoning after unsuccessful resuscitation attempts by Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre staff and paramedics.

You're just housed there as an animal.- Former inmate Kenneth Albert

His death is one of eight other overdose deaths between 2012-2016 included in a joint inquest into drug deaths at the Barton Street jail.

While Acheson died after using drugs, Albert testified on Friday that Acheson was not the type of inmate who would do drugs.

'Lots of drugs in that jail'

But he said, there were certainly drugs to had in the jail. 

Aside from him recalling what had happened the night Acheson died, Albert's testimony on Friday was filled with remarks about the drug culture inside the detention centre.

"Lots of drugs in that jail," the former inmate said, and lots of inmates do drugs to help pass the time while they're waiting for the next court date.

They all knew how to hide the drugs on and in their bodies to get away with it, "you just gotta be careful," he said. Unless your correctional officer was Fred Duykers (one of the correctional officers).

"He was military," Albert said.

Testimony from Sgt. David Oleniuk, the principal investigator for the case at Hamilton Police Service, also showed there was no evidence Acheson was a drug user prior to his death.

At the bottom left of the photo next to the towel, there is a thin white object tied to a string extended to a cell across the hall. An inmate is using an item of clothing to bring the fishing line closer to the door. (Fishing video exhibit)

The inquest was told the new inmate, who supplied the drugs, M.B. (the inquest will not be revealing the full names of inmates), arrived at the detention centre on Sept. 11. Albert and Oleniuk's testimonies reveal that the source of drugs that led to a number of overdoses including Acheson's came from M.B.

No treatment process

Albert pointed to poor conditions for inmates — including lack of programming, recreational space and also limited access to medical treatment for people with substance abuse issues.

"You're just housed there as an animal," Albert said.

Unless an inmate was already on a methadone program prior to getting inside, there's no formal process to become started on one unless the inmate was pregnant and opioid-dependent.

"It's pretty sad, they don't really get too much for opiate users," he said. Alcoholics also suffer similar problems.

A fishing line was found in Acheson's cell when police investigated the room. Albert said he likely made that line himself using thread pulled from a blanket. (Exhibit brief for William Acheson)

Night-time fishing

On the night of Sept. 11, surveillance footage of a fifth floor unit show inmates using a string, or a "fishing line," to pass something between two cells, over the course of several hours after dinner.

At one point a sergeant walked in for a patrol and the footage shows the officer stepping right over the line.

Correctional officers were on strike at the jail in September that year. Albert said there were few cell searches at that time.

"Let's just say things were out of control," he said.

A report from the Correctional Investigation and Security Unit says Acheson's unit was operating on a "split dayroom regimen" on Sept. 11.

Half the inmates were confined, and the other half with dayroom privileges and duties as meal servers had their cells kept unlocked.

"Meal hatches were left open and many items were passed between inmates," the report says.

A bag of 'home brew,' alcohol made by fermenting bread and fruit scraps, was found in Acheson's unit. When Duykers was giving Acheson CPR, a fluid with fruit chunks very similar to this brew kept coming up from his stomach. (Exhibit brief for William Acheson)

'Yelling for narcan'

Albert said it was hard to get help for Acheson because he "felt terrible" after smoking a joint from the previous night. He was later sent to hospital for treatment.

And he said it seemed like it took a long time before anybody got there.

"There's no staff, there's nobody there," Albert said. If officers weren't on strike, "maybe he might still be here," but he can't say for sure.

An inmate overdosed the evening before Acheson died in a nearby cell.

Oleniuk said one of the inmates he interviewed for the investigation said "once the commotion started … he heard someone yelling for narcan."

Neville said nurses are not allowed to use the nasal naloxone sprays. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Access to care

Injectable naloxone is available to nurses inside the facility, but they are not allowed to use nasal naloxone sprays as per Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services policies.

Vilko Zbogar, counsel representing Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, has been questioning the standard of care for inmates since the beginning of the inquest.

He said he wonders why inmates can't have access to naloxone kits inside their cells to help their cell mates going through an opioid overdose. Naloxone is an antidote to temporary reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, used to buy time for the patient to be transferred to an emergency room.

"Naloxone has saved a lot of lives," Zbogar said on April 10.

"So why shouldn't people have access readily at their fingertips, to a life-saving, medical treatment that causes no harm?"

But on Friday, Albert said he wouldn't be optimistic to see inmates having access to even a nasal naloxone spray, which is a plastic device, because they might fashion it into contraband.

"Even though it saves lives and it makes sense … but good luck with that," he said.


Flora Pan


Flora Pan is a multimedia journalist based in southern Ontario. She currently works out of Windsor. You can reach her at flora.pan@cbc.ca or on Twitter @FloraTPan.