Jury makes 62 recommendations in Hamilton jail death inquest

The jury took two days to consider the 47 proposed recommendations, which suggested upgraded searches, a designated canine unit to sniff our contraband and better video equipment.

Families say they finally feel relief and closure after six weeks of testimony

April Tykoliz, centre, wraps Cassandra and Glenroy Walton in a hug after a six-week inquest into the overdose deaths of their loved ones at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre ended on May 18. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

The jury in an inquest into eight overdose deaths at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre has made 62 recommendations— including limiting the number of inmates allowed in a cell, possible random searches of staff and having every guard carry naloxone.

For family members who sat through six weeks of heart-wrenching testimony, the end of the inquest Friday night came with tears, hugs and a sense of relief.

"I have a sense of closure now. I feel like we can rest," said April Tykoliz, whose brother Martin died at the jail on Barton Street in 2014.​

April Tykoliz holds a frame with pictures of her brother Marty who died at the jail in 2014. (Flora Pan/CBC)

The inquest was called to examine the deaths of  Louis Angelo Unelli, William Acheson, Martin Tykoliz, Stephen Conrad Neeson, David Michael Gillan, Trevor Ronald Burke, Julien Chavaun Walton and Peter Michael McNelis. It included testimony from almost 100 witnesses who spoke of overcrowding, easy access to drugs, limited monitoring of inmates and little access to methadone for inmates with addictions.

All of the men's deaths were accidental, except for Gillan, who died by suicide.

The final list of recommendations that for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services came with an additional 15 suggestions on top of 47 the jury began considering Wednesday afternoon.

Among the additions was limiting the number of inmates in each cell to two and a suggestion staff and jail visitors be submitted to random searches to keep out contraband 

The jury's verdict came after six weeks of testimony. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The five-member jury also outlined several recommendations aimed specifically at drug use and overdoses. Those included a requirement staff track suspected overdose deaths and that guards be equipped with naloxone and keep detailed records of when they administer it. 

Recommendations also touched on issues of security, the mental health of inmates and the need for better communication between jail staff, police services and area hospitals.

Here's a look at some of the other recommendations:

  • Increased canine searches.
  • Upgrades to surveillance cameras and real-time monitoring of inmates. 
  • Creating inmate check lists and logs to track relevant information about health and history when it comes to contraband.
  • Reopening the jail's gym to inmates with four dedicated recreational officers.
  • Providing CPR training to interested inmates.

The jury put a specific, six-month timeline on several items, as a call for change to take place quickly.

Glenroy Walton, whose son Julien died at the jail, described the final day of the inquest as the beginning of the healing process for his family.

He said it was tough to stay strong during the testimony, so he others who lost loved ones at the jail relied on each other for support.

They took the pain because it was important for their voices to be heard.

"If it wasn't for this nobody would know we exist and we are hurting," he explained. 

Cassandra and Glenroy Walton said the inquest has actually helped them in their healing process. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Inquest Coroner Dr. Reuven Jhirad, seemed to agree. In his closing marks he commended the families for sharing their stories.

"It was your strength, your ability to paint the lives of eight men, to take them from paper and bring them to this room, that created this inquest in terms of its heart, it's essence," he said. "Without you we would not have reached the humanity I think we're approaching."

Families plan to track changes

The ministry is not required to adopt all of the jury's recommendations, but pledged to take them seriously.

Both Walton and Tykoliz both said they hope that promise is kept.

"If they don't implement it. I don't feel like I will go away," said Tykoliz. "I don't feel like I could let go. I'm sure we're all hoping these recommendations get taken seriously … I hope, please, please."