The third death of an inmate in three months — “a summer of death” — has renewed calls for a wholesale inquiry into beleagured Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC).
“How many deaths does it take for the government to take a serious look? . . . I think we are very close to . . . asking for a review,” Tory MPP Jeff Yurek (Elgin-Middlesex London) said Thursday.
Nothing short of a provincial inquiry will get to the root of the problems at what experienced inmates call Ontario’s worst jail, London lawyer Kevin Egan said.
“Everyone I’ve talked to who has spent time in other jails says EMDC is the worst. I’ve been calling for an inquiry for years. This is just more proof that it is required.”
Meantime, critics are calling for quick installation of a body scanner after four deaths in a row — three this summer and one in October — that may be linked to drug use.
“I’m getting very tired of hearing the government talking about all the good things they’re doing, but deaths are still occurring,” said Tory corrections critic Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Essex). “Get the scanner. Get it working.”
Yurek, whose riding takes in EMDC, also called on the province to let correctional officers carry naloxone, a drug that can stop an opioid overdose.
“The deadly opioid fentanyl has made its way into the London area and has been making its way into our correctional facilities unnoticed,” he said in a statement.
“EMDC is in a full blown crisis situation that if not addressed immediately could reach a tipping point,” Nicholls added. “Correctional officers need to be given the tools that are necessary to assist stopping the flow of this deadly substance.”
A male inmate was found unresponsive in his cell Thursday morning, and pronounced dead by paramedics, a spokesperson for Correctional Services Ministry said. London police said they were called to EMDC about 7:30 a.m. for the ambulance call.
A source told The Free Press the death was due to an overdose, but nothing has been confirmed.
It is a “summer of death,” one correctional officer said. “Sad, but true. How many more deaths does the province need before they do something? Not sure why these deaths haven’t sped up the body scanner.”
EMDC’s main facility does not have an X-ray body scanner to detect contraband in body cavities. The province had promised in spring 2016 that EMDC would be one of the first facilities in the province to get one.
But it turned out that promise applied only to the jail’s regional intermittent centre, which houses mainly offenders serving time on weekends, not the main facility where most inmates are kept.
After warnings from correctional officers and an inmate overdose in October 2016, the province said it would speed up installation of a scanner at EMDC.
Corrections minister Marie-France Lalonde said Thursday that plans for the new scanner are on track for this fall and staff training has begun.
“I am concerned about the recent deaths at the EMDC,” she said in an emailed statement. “The design for the renovations to accommodate the body scanner are underway now. Once the equipment is installed, it will be tested and calibrated accordingly.
“In recognition of the need to expedite the process, EMDC staff are training on the existing body scanner operating at the RIC (regional intermittent centre) . . .”
It will take more than scanners and naloxone to solve EMDC’s problems, though, said Egan, who’s leading a $325-million class-action suit against the province over treatment of inmates there.
Staffing needs to be beefed up to lessen lockdowns and improve inmate supervision, he said. Programs helping inmates must be reinstated, he said.
“Inmates who may never have done drugs on the street actually develop drug habits inside EMDC because they’ve removed all the programs. They’re locking them down for extended periods of time, they’re bored, they’re under peer pressure to participate,” Egan said.
Egan has been raising the alarm about jail conditions for the last six years.
“There’s no political motivation to protect these people because they’re perceived as being on the fringe of society,” Egan said. “It’s heartbreaking, really, that so many people are dying needlessly in this institution.”
Coroner’s inquests into previous deaths at EMDC have identified other problems related to drug use at EMDC, including a lack of addiction and withdrawal awareness and training, and inadequate medical care.
Creating a perfect storm at EMDC this summer is the arrival of deadly fentanyl in London.
Raymond George Major, 52, died of suicide June 6, apparently during a harrowing withdrawal from fentanyl.
Mike Fall, 47, died July 30. He had a heart condition but also used illicit drugs, sources say. Correctional officers said they saved two inmates from overdoses the same weekend Fall died.
The death Thursday brings the total number to 10 in the past eight years at EMDC. Eight have those deaths have occurred in the past four years.