Prison psychiatrist testifies Ashley Smith was a 'large tyrannical child'

TORONTO – A psychiatrist is testifying that Ashley Smith was highly unstable and showed some sadistic tendencies.

Dr. Jeffrey Penn tells an inquest into the teen’s prison death that Smith was essentially a “large tyrannical child.”

He said she could not tolerate limits, felt estranged and isolated from peers, unloved, unliked, and often hopeless.

Penn’s assessment followed a 35-minute interview with Smith through her segregation-cell food slot at Nova Institution in Truro, N.S.

Then 18, it was days after Smith’s arrival at an adult prison in the fall of 2006 — a year before she would choke herself to death in a cell.

Penn prescribed calming medication and urged prison staff to reward any good behaviour.

“At times, wants to be the best at being ‘bad,’ and is succeeding,” Penn wrote Nov. 6, 2006.

Testifying at the inquest into her death at age 19, Penn said he was very confident that Smith had a “personality disorder.”

The psychiatrist said he had no input into Smith’s correctional management plan, and never saw one.

He said he was under contract to see inmates at Nova Institution for a few hours a week, which meant working quickly without breaks, moving from one task to another.

That first assessment was done on an emergency basis at the request of prison staff because Smith had been acting out.

It was their decision to have him do the assessment through her food slot rather than face to face, something the doctor said was “not ideal.”

The assessment ended on a “high note,” Penn said.

“I felt we had a bit of a connection.”

The main point of the evaluation was whether psychotropic medications would be of any use given Smith’s severe acting out and assaultive, abusive behaviours.

Notes Penn was given showed a troubled background in which the adopted Smith had been teased mercilessly by her peers and felt unloved and isolated.

“She had trouble in school,” the inquest heard. “She had trouble fitting in.”

He said he settled on giving her sedatives in an effort to calm her.

Penn said he decided against having Smith committed to a psychiatric hospital because he felt she would get better psychological care in the prison setting.

A Nova psychologist, Allister Webster, has previously talked about how he felt undermined in his dealings with Smith, including returning from vacation to find her transferred.

Penn saw her four days later, again through the food slot for 10 to 15 minutes.

“Ashley has been doing much better – no major outbursts,” his notes state.

“I was encouraged by what I saw that day,” Penn said.

After more than a dozen transfers, the teen ended up in the Grand Valley institution in Kitchener, Ont., where she choked to death in segregation in October 2007.