'Ashley is at peace,' mom says after jury homicide verdict in cell death - Macleans.ca

‘Ashley is at peace,’ mom says after jury homicide verdict in cell death

Lawyer calls for reopened criminal investigation


Ashley Smith is shown in an undated handout photo released at the inquest into her prison cell death, in Toronto on Wednesday, Feb.20, 2013. (Handout/CP)

TORONTO – The videotaped choking death of a teenager in her segregation cell six years ago was a homicide, a jury decided on Thursday, sparking calls for police to reopen their criminal investigation into the tragedy.

The Ashley Smith inquest decision drew a gasp from a packed coroner’s courtroom, which also heard jurors make 104 recommendations on dealing with self-harming, mentally ill women in federal prisons.

While the homicide decision is not a finding of legal liability, Smith’s family lawyer immediately called for police to get involved, and lashed out at Correctional Service Canada.

“It is high time that those in charge are held accountable,” Julian Falconer said.

“CSC, in my decades of work in this area, has proven they are an uncontrollable, unaccountable body. It is shameful.”

Falconer called for the immediate resignation of CSC Commissioner Don Head, who had warned jurors against making recommendations that would be expensive to implement.

The emotionally disturbed Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., strangled herself in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., on Oct. 19, 2007.

Guards, under orders from senior management against intervening as long as she was still breathing, waited too long to enter he cell and save her.

The verdict by the five women jurors made it clear they accepted the evidence of front-line guards about the no-entry orders from Warden Cindy Berry and her deputy Joanna Pauline.

Several guards and a supervisor were initially charged with criminal negligence in Smith’s death — but they were dropped.

Falconer said he didn’t want police to go after them again.

“Those who made the order not to go into her cell — the deputy warden, the warden, those above — have yet to be truly investigated or yet to truly answer for their actions,” Falconer said.

There was no immediate comment from Correctional Service Canada but Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said he had asked his officials to review the recommendations.

In an interview, Smith’s mother, Coralee Smith said she was “elated.”

“The jury was very courageous to take this step and they did the right thing,” Smith said.

“It’s come to an end and I think Ashley is at peace.”

The inquest heard evidence from 83 witnesses over 107 days starting in January about how poorly equipped the prison system was to deal with the mentally ill young woman.

Among their sweeping recommendations, jurors urged that female inmates with serious mental health issues or self-harming behaviours should serve time in a specialized treatment facility.

“It is urged that more than one federally operated treatment facility is available for high-risk, high-needs women in the event that a major conflict occurs between the inmate and staff,” the jury recommended.

The focus in dealing with such women, jurors said, should be on therapy, with treatment decisions made by clinicians rather than by security management.

They also called for a strict segregation regime, with a ban on indefinite solitary confinement.

Smith spent most of the last three years of her life in segregation, often with nothing more in the cell than a security gown designed to protect what was left of her dignity.

In her last year, she was transferred between institutions 17 times — with authorities restarting the clock each time to avoid reviewing her isolation status.

Jurors also pressed for the auditor general to do a “comprehensive audit” of how CSC was implementing the recommendations and to report publicly in 2020.

“This is an unprecedented recommendation,” Falconer said.

“It is now for the auditor general of Canada to bring what is a lawless institution into line and that means requiring compliance with these recommendations. Save lives.”

Smith’s original brief sentence for throwing crab apples at a postal worker ballooned to a cumulative 2,239 days by the time she died — mostly for acting out against guards and other inmates.

Jurors urged prison authorities to be far more circumspect in dealing with in-custody incidents, and to ensure police are well briefed on the “context” if called in to investigate.

Smith frequently tied ligatures around her neck from fabric she had secreted in her body cavities.

Some witnesses had said she had become inconsolably desolate at the prospects of never leaving prison but others said the teen spoke positively about her future and of going home to her mom.

The homicide verdict means jurors rejected any suggestion that Smith meant to kill herself.

The diagnosis, somewhere along the line, was that Smith suffered from severe borderline personality disorder but guards were led to believe she was just being obdurate.

They drugged and restrained her against her will. They pepper-sprayed her for biting or scratching, or to force her into compliance.

The inquest also heard how psychiatrists prescribed Smith medication without seeing her, while psychologists made fitful attempts to offer some form of therapy — through the food slot of her cell door.

Jurors said no food-slot therapy or assessments should happen.

“What happened to Ashley should never have happened,” said Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

“The concoctions of her as being violent were false; they were concocted in a way to justify a punitive treatment of her.”

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‘Ashley is at peace,’ mom says after jury homicide verdict in cell death

  1. I hate to be political about this very, very sensitive issue, this is a federal issue and it all happened on the Harper Governments watch. This is an example of the ” Tough on Crime ” agenda that this government promotes everyday. Just imagine, if this happened to a young innocent girl, this could happen to you or someone close to you. Its time to get tough on how our government, governs our institutions.

    • Had the staff been permitted to cavity search her regularly and frequently she would not have had the opportunity to get and keep ligature materials.

      But the ‘soft on crime’ folks decided that doing so would have been politically incorrect.

      • Would you also be OK with daily cavity searches of all prison staff to make sure they’re not bringing in drugs or other contraband as they often have in the past or are you soft on crime if you like the criminal?

        • If the prison staff were well known for suicidal tendencies, and for storing the necessaries thereof up their orifices, then yes.

          But there’s no sign that they tend to do such things.

          • I know nothing of CSC staff suicides at work but that’s not what I was talking about is it? There is however plenty of evidence of CSC staff bringing contraband into Canadian prisons so I ask again, Would you also be OK with daily cavity searches of all prison staff to make sure they’re not bringing in drugs or other contraband as they often have in the past?

          • Yes, it is what we’re talking about.

            Stuffing cloth and bits of glass up her vagina with which to strangle herself is what we’re talking about.

            That’s the behaviour that needed controlling to prevent her from risking suicide.

          • So you’re OK with prison staff smuggling drugs into prison with impunity? No cavity searches for their criminal activity but cavity searches are preferred by you over treatment for a young girl’s obvious mental health issues? Brilliant! Perhaps if she got the help she needed instead of torture from the staff with your attitude, she’d still be alive today. It’s good to see you admit you’re fine with lawbreaking as long as you like the lawbreakers though. Not many people are ready to admit to such odious double standards. I wish Harper had your courage.

          • I ‘mokusatsu’ the separate and unrelated issue of searching for drugs in correctional facilities.

            But to prevent her from strangling herself would mean preventing her from getting the means with which to do so.

            Once she found out that the staff were not allowed to check out her nether orifices, she used that fact in order to keep on trying to manipulate them with her stranglings.

          • Whether there might exist perhaps some fashion of ‘treating’ her out of her strangling obsession (I note you hold out but a slim ‘perhaps’ yourself on that subject), one thing that is sure and certain is that had she not had access to ligature materials, she could not have strangled herself to death.

          • Garbled message – unable to understand…

          • Your inability to understand is hardly my problem.

            Trying to bring irrelevant issues into the discussion is just not going to be well received.

            If NO wants to discuss control of drug abuse via the use of strip and cavity searches, then he-she-it needs to find a thread or forum about that topic.

            Meanwhile the topic at hand is preventing suicide attempts.

      • You dumb*ass – guards watched and videotaped her killing herself.

      • Had the guards been following reasonable orders to enter her cell when she started strangling herself, she would not have been able to kill herself. Had the guards not been ordered to watch her kill herself for several minutes before intervening, she would not have been able to kill herself. Had the wardens held any ounce of empathy for this troubled girl, she would not have been able to kill herself.

        • You have not understood.

          They needed to have stopped her way before she started strangling herself.

          How is allowing her to choke herself ever going to contribute to solving any of the problems associated with her?

  2. The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

    Fyodor Dostoevsky (1862)

    • The prisons in which Ashley found herself are far nicer places than anything familiar to Dostoyevsky.

      • Apparently not.

        • No.

          Just no.

          • A mentally ill person killed in prison at 19…..yes.

          • People have been killing themselves in prisons for centuries.

            Russian prisons of the 1800s were brutal places where suicide was unnecessary since death was already common with no personal effort.

          • You know nothing about this case, do ya….

          • No he’s pure tough on crime unless it’s committed by a friend or politician he likes.

          • Yeah, true…he picks on people who can’t defend themselves.

          • You mean you, for example…

          • LOL

          • So were Canadian prisons at the time. Just as brutal as Russian prisons if not more.

          • Which only confirms what nice places we keep folks like Ashley in.

            Much nicer.

            But there are unintended consequences to policies like forbidding cavity searches.

          • Russian prisons are now much nicer than they were in the 1800’s too What’s your point and what does it have to do with the murder of Ashley Smith?

          • Dostoyevsky quote by Emily.

          • Yes, his quote regarding prisons. Not Russian prisons of the 1800’s. Not Russian prisons today or even Canadian prisons but prisons in general, hence the term society instead of Russia. Learn to read man!

          • And confirming how much nicer were Ashley’s surroundings than the prisons which Dostoyevsky had ever seen.

          • Mhor doesn’t know who he was.

    • To say nothing of the way it treats its children.

      • Very true….we are barbaric to our children

  3. The girl strangles herself at irregular but frequent intervals, the rules stop the staff from denying her access to strangulation materials, and so eventually she succeeds in killing herself.

    It’s ridiculous to call this a homicide.

    • Emphasis on girl. She was a child. She was sick. She was in custody. She was not capable of caring for herself or making independent and responsible decisions for a host of reasons. And her behaviour was a pattern. Application of the prison rules to the pattern of her illness in a way that made her death a likely outcome is homicide.

      • The rule that doomed her was te one that prevented the staff from making her stranglings impossible.

        And thus far that has escaped all scrutiny.

        • What doomed Ashley was the complete lack of treatment & moving her from one prison to another 17 TIMES OVER A PERIOD OF 11 MONTHS! Don’t forget about the force feeding of medication & tying her down with duct tape. This was a girl who had serious mental health problems trying to cope with a system concerned not with her well-being, but with covering it’s own butt.
          The Warden, Deputy Warden and any other mgmt. staff who were involved with her or her case should be charged with criminal negligence causing death.

          • She was permitted to obtain and conceal the means of causing her own death.

            The staff did not have the authority to prevent her from doing so, nor to take the stuff away from her.

            The only apparent reason she was moved so often is that she took great pains to make life miserable for everyone with whom she came in contact… staff, fellow inmates, and anyone else.

          • Yeah right. And of course moving her around like that didn’t contribute to her problems at all did it? Nevermind keeping her in isolation all that time. Your lack of comprehension is astounding.

          • The issue is not about ‘her problems’, but her unconstrained ability to kill herself.

            How was allowing her to choke herself ever going to contribute to solving any of the problems associated with her?

            Basically your idea simply heightens her ability to manipulate the staff… one of the problems she presented.

          • The issue is most certainly about her problems and how they were exacerbated by the jail systems “shove it under the carpet & cover our own asses approach”. You keep harping on the guards supposed lack of ability to deal with they symptoms of her behavior. I’m talking about dealing with the causes of it. How sad this this girl was so desperate for human contact that she resorted to this dangerous self-harming behavior.

        • No. The rule that they couldn’t intervene, that they sit by and wait until she turn blue with her tongue lolling out of her mouth, that they wait until there was no chance of recovery, doomed her.

          • They needed to have intervened long before she even started strangling herself.