Hamilton

Family 'grief stricken' after HWDC inmate dies of yet another suspected overdose

Another inmate has died at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC), just months after a marathon inquest into eight overdose deaths at the Barton Street jail.

Death comes after inquest into 8 overdose deaths at the Barton St. jail

Family members say Christopher John Sharp died of a suspected drug overdose at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre Friday afternoon. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Another inmate has died at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC), just months after a marathon inquest into eight overdose deaths at the Barton Street jail.

Christopher John Sharp died of a suspected drug overdose around 2 p.m. Friday.

The 53-year-old was originally from London, Ont. His mother, Carol, said she is remembering him as a man who loved animals and his family, not the inmate whose struggle with drug addiction led to decades bouncing in and out of jail.

"We're very sad," she said. "That knock on the door late at night .... is the one we have dreaded for many years. We knew it was coming but you're never ready."

My only consolation [is] he is free now [and] at peace.- Carol Sharp, Johnny's mother

Family members were contacted by officials hours after Sharp's death and are trying to come to grips with their loss, according to Kevin Egan, a lawyer with McKenzie Lake LLP.

"They're grief stricken," he said. "I think to an extent they're not totally surprised that Johnny has passed away … but they're surprised he passed away in a provincial detention centre where he was supposed to be supervised and cared for."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional services confirmed an inmate died at the detention centre on Friday, but declined to say more as the death is still under investigation.

A sweet, mischievous boy

Carol, Sharp's mother, said family and friends called her boy Johnny.

He was a sweet, funny child with a mischievous streak. He loved sports, including karate and was an excellent artist who designed and inked tattoos. 

But that was before 30 years in and out of jails and prisons introduced him to drugs and addiction.

Sharp's mother, Carol, sent CBC News this photo of her son taken in 1978 "before jails and addiction." (Carol Sharp)

During his "horrible, sad life" Sharp suffered attacks and abuse behind bars, his mother added.

"My only consolation [is] he is free now [and] at peace."

62 recommendations after inquest

Sharp's death comes after a massive inquest into eight overdose deaths at the jail. After six weeks of testimony, the jury made 62 recommendations on May 19, including several aimed directly at curbing drug use and overdoses.

Those suggestions ranged from requiring staff track suspected overdose deaths to a recommendation that guards be equipped with naloxone and keep detailed records of when they administer it. 

The ministry has six months to respond.

Inquests have also been announced into the deaths of two other HWDC inmates — Brennan Bowley and Ryan McKechnie.

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca