POLITICS

Nova Scotia justice minister promises mother report on son's death in jail

02/12/2015 04:00 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's minister of justice says she will give the mother of a man who died of a methadone overdose in jail copies of an internal inquiry once police have finished their investigation.

Lena Metlege Diab said Thursday she sympathizes with Clayton Cromwell's family, who have been searching for answers about his death since he was found unresponsive April 7 in his cell at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax.

"What we have undertaken to do is give them all the information we have but after the police investigation has been completed," Diab said, adding that the premature release of the internal inquiry could jeopardize the investigation.

A medical examiner's report says the 23-year-old man died accidentally from an overdose of methadone. The amount of methadone found in his blood according to the report is consistent with a single therapeutic dose, depending on one's body weight, the Capital District Health Authority said.

But Cromwell wasn't supposed to be taking the drug and he "did not have extensive prior methadone use and tolerance," says the report.

His mother Elizabeth Cromwell says she's upset that she has waited almost a year without learning anything about how her son obtained the drug while he was at the provincial jail while awaiting a court appearance on a drug trafficking charge.

"I want justice for Clayton," she said in an interview. "This ... devastated my life. I don't want somebody else's mom getting a phone call and a visit from the chaplain."

Devin Maxwell, the mother's lawyer, filed a freedom of information request to get a copy of the internal inquiry but it was refused. Officials cited the need to protect her dead son's privacy.

The bits of information the 52-year-old woman has received disturb her and lead to more questions.

On the day before Cromwell's death, all inmates were locked up in the unit for a search, prison records say. His mother said he didn't call her that day, which was unusual for him.

Those same records say another inmate was rushed to a hospital as staff distributed medications.

The Capital District Health Authority said it provides methadone to inmates who were undergoing methadone treatment prior to incarceration and the dosages are in liquid form.

There are no plans to launch an external investigation, the health board said.

The Justice Department said earlier in the week it could not comment on the details of Cromwell's case due to the ongoing police investigation and instead issued a statement about the prevalence of contraband throughout the province's corrections system.

"Contraband is a problem in all prisons and offenders find increasingly creative ways to get around the rules," it said. "Despite our best efforts to keep contraband, including drugs, out of our prisons, they do find ways in."

A Justice Department report into Cromwell's death says the jail has reviewed the incident to see if standards were met. But the report, obtained by The Canadian Press through a freedom of information request, is mostly blanked out citing privacy and security reasons.

NDP justice critic Frank Corbett said the responses don't indicate how the drug problem at the jail is being addressed.

"Merely to say we're being outsmarted by the criminals is not a good enough answer," he said.

Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator of Canada, said refusing to provide information due to a police investigation may not be sufficient.

"That needs to be very narrowly applied," he said. "It's not enough to say there is an ongoing investigation and therefore no information can be shared."

His office has recommended federal prisons provide as much information as legally possible to families of dead inmates and they not wait until formal requests under freedom of information legislation.

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