The coroner’s inquest into the March 4, 2011 accidental overdose death at the Brantford Jail of Robert Howard Clause resulted in 17 recommendations being made on November 9th, 2014. The inquiry into Clause’s death commenced just one day after another Six Nations man, Kyle Dean Sandy, age 27, died while in custody at the Brantford Jail. The recommendations from the Clause inquest were considered a victory by family and legal counsel. The Two Row Times has been approached by a man who personally knew both Clause and Sandy. He wanted to share his concerns about the implementation of recommendations from the Clause inquiry but he believes that, in doing so, his safety will be at risk. For this reason, we will share his concerns but identify him by a pseudonym, “Trevor.”
To qualify some of the statements made, Trevor explains that his involvement in criminal activity has landed him in nearly half of the jails that exist in Ontario. He admits that this was in large part due to his struggle with an addiction to opiate pills. Trevor has sought numerous services in and out of custody to overcome his addiction. He discloses short and long term goals to deal with his addiction. He is still court-involved. He presents as a pleasant, intelligent, somewhat reserved man.
Trevor believes that the recommendations from the Clause inquest were positive, but he fears that the environment within the jails would not likely allow significant changes. He questioned whether the recommendations would even be enforced. In his mind, the recommendations were “well said, but there needs to be more put in line to implement them.”
He would like to see “liability on the correctional officers” for “leaving him (Clause) in segregation, banging on the door for 45 minutes asking for help.” Trevor feels that at best, the Brantford Jail got a “slap on the wrist” and that for mistakes of this magnitude, “Sorry doesn’t cut it. That’s a human life they neglected.”
Trevor describes the availability of drugs in jails as far worse than their accessibility “on the road,” meaning outside of jail. He stated that “if you go looking for drugs on the road and you know seven dealers, maybe three will have what you are looking for. But in jail, there are always drugs on every range; or the next range has something. Any drug. You name it, it’s in the jails.”
Some of the Clause inquest recommendations focus on training the correctional officers to identify signs of overdose, employing intake and tracking mechanisms for inmates accessing addictions services within the institution, use of technology to identify contraband on an inmate, and developing processes for assisting inmates experiencing breathing problems.
But one area that legal counsel for the Clause family, Sarah Dover was not allowed to delve too far in to during the inquiry, pertained to the relationships that correctional officers have with the inmates. Dr. Stanborough, the Coroner presiding over the Clause inquest, had stated that “a coroner’s inquest is not intended to lay blame or shame” as is the practice in criminal court and he would not permit Dover to continue on with this line of questioning. The recommendations therefore do not address the relationships between corrections staff and inmates. Trevor identifies this as the biggest hindrance to implementing the inquiry’s recommendations.
Trevor acknowledges that the use of x-ray technology will help identify inmates bringing in drugs, but he alleges that contraband is regularly brought in by jail staff, as well. He alleges that in each jail he has been incarcerated in, “there’s always a CO (correctional officer) bringing packages in. They get $1000 for bringing in a package and he just passes it to the guy, whoever it is” that is selling inside the jail. He states that the jail has stopped major financial transactions by putting a limit of $150 on inmates’ accounts. But Trevor states that the inmates just do “double visits” now, meaning that one inmate will bring in two people to a visit. The seller gets visual confirmation from the visitor that the money is in an account he can access. He passes the drugs to the buyer and they go their separate ways. He states that “the money is staying out on the road now.”
Trevor alleges that correctional officers are main players in creating a hostile environment within the jail. He alleges that if the correctional officers do not like an inmate, they will make him wear a tight jumpsuit and tie-dyed shoes to indicate to other inmates that this guy is in on a domestic violence or sexual assault charge, knowing that this will incite violence from other inmates.
He says, “They’re there on remand. They’re not convicted yet. They may not even be guilty but these guys pass judgement on people like that.” He said that the constant threat of violence or punishment makes the stress level so high in jail that many men contemplate or attempt suicide while in custody. He further alleged that correctional officers arrange beatings and it’s never a fair fight. He alleges, “It will be three guys on one, stomping a guy’s head in.”
This is the first in a two-part series on the Clause inquest. The second part will run exclusively in Two Row Times next week.