Jail drug trade must be probed
By: Susan Clairmont, The Spectator
The province is refusing to tell the public if it is doing anything about allegations that a guard sold drugs in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will not say if it is launching an internal investigation into a corrections officer arrested at work last Thursday.
“It’s our HR policy that prevents us from releasing personal information about our employees,” says Stuart McGetrick, spokesperson for the ministry.
Hamilton police took Jess Potter into custody during his shift at the jail and were to charge him with trafficking and benefiting from the proceeds of crime. Sources say the accusation was that Potter, who worked at the detention centre for 28 years, was selling drugs on the job.
But the charges were never formally laid in court because on Friday, the day after his arrest, Potter was found barely alive with critical injuries in a farmer’s field in Norfolk County. He died later that day in hospital.
The OPP says his death is not considered suspicious.
The ministry’s own policy and procedures manual says that “if the offence occurred while the employee was at work” the regional director “may request a formal investigation under the Ministry of Correctional Services Act.”
Not shall. May.
McGetrick says there is an internal investigation currently taking place at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre. But he will not confirm that it is in connection to Potter.
Over the past five years the ministry has conducted 34 investigations across the province into allegations that corrections staff — anyone from guards to administrative staff, cooks and maintenance workers — were involved with drug trafficking at institutions. McGetrick did not have the results of any of those investigations, but he says one of them involves the Barton Street jail and that it is the one which is ongoing.
The investigations are conducted by a special investigative unit within the ministry and often work alongside police if there is also a criminal investigation taking place.
It seems glaringly obvious that any time a corrections officer is accused of being involved in trafficking at a facility an investigation should take place. How else will the ministry know what is going on in its own institutions? If crimes are being committed? How will it know what its staff is up to? How will it know what the contraband situation is? How will it see systemic problems? How will it protect the safety of both the inmates and the staff?
And, most importantly, how can the ministry do anything to fix its problems if it doesn’t find out what is happening in the first place?
But the ministry’s responsibility doesn’t end there. It’s not good enough to do an investigation. It has to make its results public. And not just because jails are funded by taxpayer money, but because the public has a moral responsibility to know what is happening inside these institutions. Just because we lock people up doesn’t mean we should forget about them.
No doubt for some, the fact that Potter is now deceased will seem like a reason to just drop the whole thing. He cannot have his day in court to determine his guilt or innocence and that is a tragedy.
But that is more reason for the ministry to conduct an internal investigation. It may be the only way for the public to learn the truth about what is going on at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre and to be sure that it is dealt with.
Susan Clairmont’s commentary appears regularly in the Spectator. Sclairmont@thespec.com