TORONTO – A long-delayed and much-anticipated inquest into the death of a troubled teen in custody begins today in Toronto.
Ashley Smith was 19 when she choked to death in a federal prison in Kitchener, Ont., more than five years ago.
She had spent much of her last year in segregation, shunted across the country from prison to prison.
Her family’s lawyer says her mother feels “utterly betrayed” by the correctional system.
Presiding coroner Dr. John Carlisle has made it clear he wants to explore how people with mental illness are treated in prison.
The inquest is expected to last at least six months.
Smith, of Moncton, N.B., was adopted when she was five days old. She began to act out at school starting at age 10, the beginning of a long downward spiral that saw her suspended from schools and find herself in youth custody at age 15.
In the three years Smith was in custody in New Brunswick, she racked up several hundred recorded incidents, ranging from refusal to hand over a hair brush, to self-harm and suicide attempts.
Kept almost entirely in segregation, the increasingly troubled teen spent the last year of her life shunted 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces. She tried to hurt herself with alarming frequency.
In September 2006, weeks before she was moved into the adult prison system, Smith wrote in her journal: “If I die then I will never have to worry about upsetting my mom again.”
This is the second inquest into her death. The first collapsed last year amid months of bitter legal fights when the coroner, Dr. Bonita Porter, abruptly resigned.