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He died in Hamilton’s jail within 24 hours of going in. His family won’t give up till they get answers

Three weeks after his death in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, Jamie Dooley's family says they have few answers about what happened. At least 15 prisoners have died in the provincially run jail since 2012.

Jamie Dooley, 41, died in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre on May 28

People standing with signs.

Warning: This story contains references to suicide.

Standing on a grassy patch and baking under the summer sun, Tangie Gagnon stood next to her daughter, Melissa Dooley, and wiped away tears as she stared at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.

Gagnon's eldest child, 41-year-old Jamie Dooley, spent his final moments in jail before dying on May 28.

"It takes less than one night to die here, but [Jamie] managed to live on the street for three years without an overdose or even one close call," Melissa told CBC Hamilton, saying his death has been "catastrophic" for her family.

It's been almost a month since Dooley died and questions are swirling about how it happened.

Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General, confirmed a prisoner died on May 28.

He said an investigation is underway, but couldn't share any other details.

Pandemic took toll on Dooley, family says

Dooley is remembered for his generosity, his love for family, and his athleticism and work as a sous chef, among other things.

"We're a very close family," Gagnon said.

He grew up in Hamilton, where he was bullied in school and was assaulted in adulthood because he was a trans man, his family said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dooley moved to St. John's in hopes of having a fresh start.

His family said he would buy bikes, paint them and give them away for free.

During the pandemic, Dooley's family said, he developed paranoia and other mental health issues. His family suspects the isolation may have been hard on Dooley, who always loved having company.

When Dooley returned to Hamilton a year later, his mental health had deteriorated.

He ended up unhoused and sleeping in tents.

His family said they tried getting Dooley help for his mental health and he had attempted suicide multiple times, but he was never officially diagnosed and was quickly released from hospitals.

Dooley also stayed at Willow's Place, a shelter for women, transgender and non-binary people.

Dooley died in segregation, family says

On May 26, Dooley's family said, police arrested him while he was outside for missing a court date a month earlier.

They said he spent a night in a holding cell before being remanded to the jail and entering segregation.

"We thought Jamie would be safe. Clearly we were wrong," Melissa said.

Segregation, also known as solitary confinement, is when prisoners are physically and socially isolated in a cell for 22 hours or more.

A recent CBC investigation revealed segregation in Ontario jails has been ramping up since 2019, despite the Ontario Human Rights Commission urging the province to phase out segregation in its jails since 2016.

In Hamilton, it has been happening at a far greater rate than the rest of Ontario and has met the United Nations' threshold for torture, with some segregation periods lasting as long as 21 days. Under its Mandela Rules, the UN considers segregation of over 15 consecutive days a form of torture, calling it "cruel" and "inhuman."

A third of the Hamilton inmates who were segregated had a mental health alert on their file, meaning they disclosed a mental illness, demonstrated behaviour that suggested mental illness or had shown signs of or had said they were thinking about suicide.

There were also 112 people in segregation who had "severe mental illness" and 223 people on suicide watch, which is when the imprisoned person needs "increased supervision" due to a "high risk of suicide or self-harm."

It's unclear if Dooley had a mental health alert on file or why he was put in segregation.

The province lists six reasons for putting people in segregation:

  1. They pose security risks.
  2. They pose security risks for medical concerns.
  3. They need protection.
  4. They need protection for medical concerns.
  5. For misconduct.
  6. For refusing to be searched.

The province previously told CBC Hamilton some people also request to enter segregation conditions.

Dooley's family suggested he may have been put in segregation because he was trans. The province didn't answer questions about if Dooley was in segregation and if so, why.

Dooley's family said he refused breakfast at 7 a.m. on May 28 and was found unresponsive at 11 a.m.

WATCH | Prisoners in Hamilton put in segregation at far greater rate than any other Ontario jail

Prisoners in Hamilton put in segregation at far greater rate than any other Ontario jail, data shows

16 days ago

Duration 2:52

Ontario has long faced calls to end segregation in its jails, but a CBC investigation shows prisoners are being isolated more often. In Hamilton, it's happening at a higher rate than elsewhere in the province, meeting the UN's threshold for torture. An advocate for incarcerated people recalls her time in segregation as being "in a little cream-coloured box with nothing." CBC Hamilton's Bobby Hristova explains.

Dave Thompson, a superintendent with Hamilton Paramedic Services, told CBC Hamilton that paramedics were called shortly after 11 a.m. for a medical emergency.

Paramedics pronounced Dooley dead at the scene.

Dooley's family wonders if someone would have spotted Dooley unresponsive sooner if he wasn't in segregation.

His family said an autopsy was done and found Dooley's cause of death was "unnatural," and they're waiting for the toxicology report. Sudden deaths from unnatural causes in jails automatically trigger provincial inquests.

Family members suspect it was an overdose because they say a small bag with crystals was found near Dooley's body in the jail. Where the bag came from is unclear.

Dooley's family said he self-medicated with crystal meth and fought drug addiction that got worse during the pandemic.

'Jamie was loved and we're not going to give up'

The province did not say how many prisoners have died at the jail in recent years, but at least 15 have died there since 2012.

The jail was previously the focus of a massive inquest into the overdose deaths of eight men in the facility and led to a jury making 62 recommendations to prevent future deaths.

About 50 people — including prison rights advocates and families of others who have died in the jail — gathered with Dooley's family on Tuesday evening outside the jail, trying to raise awareness about deaths in custody.

Those at the rally spoke to each other, waving signs and walking around the jail, for about two hours.

At one point, they also all let out a collective scream.

"Years have passed, countless recommendations have been made, yet we still console new family members and fight for change in a system that is broken," said Amy McKechnie, whose brother Ryan died at the jail in 2017. An inquest hasn't yet been conducted.

"To those who may have negative or disrespectful comments, who say, 'Don't do the crime if you can't do the time,' … our loved ones were human beings who deserved basic humanity and human rights."

While they couldn't be seen from the outside, prisoners inside the detention centre could be heard banging on the windows.

Dooley's family said they won't stop their search for answers.

"Jamie was loved and we're not going to give up," Melissa said.

"We're going to make sure accountability happens. If it has to take a decade, we'll still be standing here."

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there:

  • Trans Lifeline – 1-877-330-6366. It offers full anonymity and confidentiality.
  • The Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca.
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone. Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
  • In Quebec (French): Association Québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
  • COAST — 905-972-8338 or Toll Free: 1-844-972-8338.


Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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