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No answers in Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre death

Hamilton Police confirm the inmate who died was a 42-year-old male.
Hamilton jail guards returned to the Barton Jail on the same day an inmate's body was found there. (Adam Carter/CBC)

A post-mortem on the body of a 42-year-old Barton Street jail inmate who died early Wednesday has not yet determined the man's cause of death.

Tests on the body have been done but Dr. Jack Stanborough told CBC Hamilton "it could take weeks, if not months," before the results of toxicology tests are known.

"It is incomplete and ongoing. The tests are done. We are waiting on the results," said Stanborough, regional supervising coroner.

If the results point to an "unnatural death" an inquest would automatically be called, Stanborough said.

All "in-custody deaths that are unnatural lead to an inquest," he said.

Police have notified the next of kin but will not release the man's name because it was a sudden death.

"We don't release names of persons in sudden death cases, however, if it becomes a homicide that changes," said Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings, spokesperson for Hamilton police.

Police say they are investigating the possibility that the death and the hospitalization of three other inmates was because of bad heroin.

The three inmates were treated and released from hospital Thursday. They have returned to the jail.

Another ambulance was called to the jail to take an inmate to hospital just before 4 p.m. Wednesday, but Hamilton EMS couldn't say if the call was drug related.

"But it wasn't an injury," said EMS commander Ian Wright.

Police said on Wednesday there had been six medical emergencies in 24 hours after the use of what was thought to be heroin.

"Is the heroin connected to this [the jail] death? Maybe," said Collings.

"We have to make that determination through a post-mortem," Collings said. "Based on the information we have, we're looking at it as a possibility."

"We're not aware of any weapons being used and there was no fight," she said.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath told CBC Hamilton she'd be surprised if the work stoppage at the facility coupled with overcrowding didn't contribute to the death.

"Does it take someone dying to shine a light on the problems at the Barton Street jail and across the Ontario justice system?" she asked.

Horwath, the MPP for Hamilton Centre where the jail is located, said she was hoping for a full coroner's inquest into the death so that all factors can be examined.

"A person lost their life and that's something we never want," she said. "We need to figure out to what extent the last couple of weeks have played into this situation at the jail."

The inmate was found dead at the jail on the day guards returned to work for the first time in four weeks.

The man was found around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Hamilton defence lawyer Beth Bromberg told CBC Hamilton she had planned to go into the jail Wednesday to see clients, but was told she couldn't get in.

"This is a very big deal," she said, adding that she has no idea when she might be allowed access. "I have clients I need to see."

Barton Street jail guards walked out on Aug. 13 after a piece of metal on the fourth floor went missing. Guards wanted to search the facility wearing safety vests but jail management turned down the request.

Managers from across the province were called in to staff the jail.

After extensive discussion over four weeks with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services the guards returned to work Wednesday morning.

Guards wore vests as they searched the jail Wednesday, said Dan Sidsworth, vice-chair of the Ontario Public Service Employee Union's corrections division.

The death occurred in an area of the jail that was still under the control of managers.

David Lane, executive director of the John Howard Society of Hamilton, says it wouldn't be far fetched for the work stoppage to be a factor in drugs being smuggled into the prison.

"I don't think it would be unfair to say it increased the risk," he said. "For things to go on this long just adds to the tension in the prison."

"This past month has just had a horrendous impact on the inmates themselves."

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