Pubdate: Tue, 05 Oct 2010
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Nicole O'Reilly


Tobacco. Marijuana. Four balloons of what appeared to be drugs.
Possibly crack cocaine. Twenty-six tablets of prescription medication.
A nail. Soap in a sock. A pocket knife. A piece of sharpened metal.
Lighters. And "a kite" - written inmate communication.

This is the contraband confiscated by authorities last year from
inside the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.

The list of items, seized at the jail on Barton Street East and
released to The Spectator through a Freedom of Information request, is
a glimpse of what has become all too common in Ontario jails, said
Eddy Almeida. A former Barton jail guard, Almeida is the president of
the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents
corrections officers at detention centres across the province.

After reading out the 15 instances where drugs or weapons were seized
in the jail in 2009, Almeida said "that isn't unusual."

This comes on the heels of revelations that a 28-year veteran jail
guard in the Barton Street jail was arrested by Hamilton police more
than a week ago. Jess Potter was to face charges of drug trafficking
and benefiting from the proceeds of crime for allegedly selling drugs
in the jail. The day after being arrested he was found near death in a
farmer's field in Norfolk County and has since died.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre is a maximum security remand
centre mostly containing men waiting for bail hearings or those denied
bail waiting for trial.

Almeida, commenting on the contraband list and not Potter, said there
are many ways illicit goods - and drugs in particular - make their way
into Ontario jails.

The drugs and weapons often get in with the prisoner. Most commonly
they are wrapped or stored in some type of container or sack and then
shoved up an orifice. This method is referred to as "hooping."

Contraband is big money on the inside. Tobacco, for instance, can be
worth 400 times its value. It becomes a bargaining tool, "a status
thing," Almeida said.

The presence of contraband inside jails is a considerable concern for
guards, he said.

It is not just the presence of weapons. For instance, an inmate who is
usually calm may become agitated or violent when taking drugs the
guards don't know he's consumed, Almeida said.

"It's a serious problem, it's a problem that is not going away," said
Peter Kormos, Ontario NDP justice critic, adding that it puts guards
and prisoners at risk.

The problem, he said, effectively ensures no rehabilitation inside
jails. Instead, it turns them into "places of mayhem."

It puts guards and prisoners at risk, and is also "simply offensive to
the public that some drugs are more accessible in jails than on the
streets," Kormos said.

Some of the problem is technology, some is what staff are not allowed
to do - invasive searches - and much of it is staffing, he said.

He also pointed to how frequently prisoners are moved as a window for
them to get drugs.

"(The) trend in most communities is for prisoners to be transported to
courthouse and back a number of times before they are actually in a
position where they are pleading guilty or at trial," Kormos said.
"It's those frequent appearances oftentimes that provides prisoners
with the opportunity to get contraband."

He was well aware of the Jess Potter case, but said he believes
correctional officers and other insiders are rarely involved in moving
drugs and weapons through jails.

"It's a rare, rare, rare occasion with probably some striking and
shocking circumstances surrounding it," he said.

Jim Bradley, minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services,
would not comment on the Jess Potter case. But he did say contraband
in jails is a concern.

"I think it is recognized virtually everywhere as a problem," he

The ministry's focus is to prevent the introduction of contraband at
the earliest point, he said, adding that jail employees use different
measures including frequent searches.

"We have policies in place to detect (and) deter contraband including
drugs into our institutions," he said.

New technologies include an ongoing X-ray pilot project and a body
orifice security scanner chair, but they're only available in some

The ministry maintains it "takes every reasonable step to ensure the
safety of the public, our staff and inmates," spokesperson Tony Brown
wrote in an e-mail.

He would not disclose, for security reasons, what measures are used to
detect contraband or how the ministry believes the drugs and weapons
get inside.

OPSEU has proposed initiating in-house canine units for jails to
better detect contraband. Currently guards can make use of police
canine units, but only when they are available, Almeida said.

There is also a push for stronger background checks on non-inmates
allowed into Ontario jails.

But all of this requires money and government approval.

Bradley said the ministry is "always interested" in the advice from
employees and the union, but "it would be unwise to get specific"
about any initiatives not yet on the table.

Contraband seized in Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre in

- - a quantity of what appeared and smelled like cannabis

- - two five-gram vials containing a dark green, thick liquid

- - a small amount (the digital scale could not read weight) of green leafy 
substance suspected to be marijuana

- - four balloons of what appeared to be drugs

- - possibly crack cocaine

- - four grams of marijuana and a second four grams of marijuana

- - tobacco

- - a small quantity of tobacco, what looked like marijuana, seven tablets of 
Seroquel and 19 tablets of Elavil

- - tobacco

- - nail

- - soap in a sock

- - pocket knife

- - sharpened metal piece

- - lighters

- - a kite (written inmate communications) 
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