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11 inmates mistakenly released from Hamilton jail since 2021, documents show

Eleven inmates at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre have been mistakenly released in the past 2½ years, CBC Hamilton has learned.

The statistics, obtained by CBC through a freedom of information request, don’t detail exactly when or how the improper releases occurred, but show the total since 2016.

Since 2021, there have been 11 mistaken releases of inmates:

  • Five in 2021.
  • Five in 2022.
  • One in 2023, the only release that led to police notifying the public.

The figures show there were three inmates improperly released in 2017, bringing the total to 14 accidental releases in six years.

Comparatively, there have only been two improper releases from the Niagara Detention Centre since 2016.

The one case the public knows about

Asgar Manek, a Hamilton-based lawyer who represented a mistakenly released inmate, said he believes staffing levels at the jail may have played a role.

“They’re short-staffed, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

It’s unclear what caused the improper releases.

The only time in the past few years the public ever learned of an inmate being let out by mistake was in the case of Shawn Delaney — the sole improper release in 2023.

Hamilton Police Service (HPS) previously said “an administrative error” led to the 46-year-old being released on March 3.

Court documents show Delaney had 33 days left to serve on his sentence.

He was convicted March 3 on 10 charges, including choking a person, and break-ins involving local businesses in 2021 and 2022. But instead of finishing his sentence, he was mistakenly freed.

Police said it learned about the mistake four days later, on March 7.

A mugshot.
Shawn Delaney was mistakenly let out of jail. It’s the only time in the past few years the public ever learned of an inmate being let out by mistake, and it happened in 2023. (Submitted by Hamilton Police Service)

The service said it “exhausted all leads” for two days before issuing a media release on March 9.

“This is to not alert the individual that police are looking for them, in turn keeping them from going further into hiding,” Const. Indy Bharaj wrote in an email to CBC Hamilton at the time.

It’s unclear why the police service didn’t learn about the improper release earlier.

Manek was Delaney’s lawyer.

He said he advised Delaney to turn himself in because of the “honest mistake by the correctional service officers.”

“His reasons were dubious about turning himself in and he didn’t do it,” Manek said.

Police found Delaney on March 14. He served nine extra days in jail, according to court documents.

Few answers from province, police and union

Manek said he doesn’t believe the number of improper releases is high, but that understaffing or new staff still learning the job may have led to the mistaken releases.

“Remember, we’re all human and we’re prone to make mistakes.”

Andrew Morrison, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, didn’t answer questions about the jump in improper releases in the past few years, the reasons for the releases, why only one release was made public and how the province is addressing the issue.

He told CBC Hamilton in an email that the ministry has a “legal responsibility to uphold the orders of the courts and takes its responsibility of custody and community supervision very seriously.”

A man behind a podium and microphone.
Michael Kerzner is Ontario’s solicitor general. A spokesperson for the ministry told CBC Hamilton in an email that it has a ‘legal responsibility to uphold the orders of the courts and takes its responsibility of custody and community supervision very seriously.’ (Claude Beaudoin/CBC)

Morrison said that when improper releases occur, the police are notified and “all efforts are made” to find the inmate.

“Any decision to notify the public would be the responsibility of the police to determine whether an individual poses any risks to the community and what actions would be necessary,” he said.

“The ministry conducts an internal investigation of all improper releases to determine the cause and if any actions or process changes are needed to prevent future improper releases.”

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents staff at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, declined an interview, but said in an email the process of releasing an inmate includes various checks along the way.

“However, ultimately, the sign-off on the release of an inmate falls to management employees outside of our bargaining unit and they are responsible for ensuring that everything is in order before the inmate is released,” the email reads.

HPS didn’t do an interview and spokesperson Jackie Penman said in an email that she couldn’t comment on specific cases without being provided the inmates’ names.

But speaking generally, she said police will issue a media release if there are “victim safety concerns, the community may be at risk or if we need the public’s help in locating the individual.”

“A media release would not be issued if investigators already knew where the individual was located or had significant investigative leads on where the individual may be,” she wrote.

“Each case, and the threat that the individual poses to the community, determines the steps taken by HPS and whether or not a media release is completed.”

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