Ashley Smith’s prison death was a homicide, coroner’s inquest finds

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Family calls for reopened criminal investigation in her death

TORONTO — The jury at a coroner’s inquest into Ashley Smith’s prison death returned a verdict of homicide Thursday while making a number ofrecommendations on how the corrections system can better deal with mentally ill female inmates.

An undated family handout photo of Ashley Smith, who died in prison in October 2007.

Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B. and originally from Summerside, strangled herself in her segregation cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in October 2007.

The inquest heard how guards, who had previously rushed in to save the chronically self-harming teen, hesitated because of orders from senior management against intervening as long as she was still breathing.


Smith’s family and others had urged jurors to return a homicide verdict because of that order, which they believed significantly contributed to her death.

They are calling on authorities to criminally investigate those who issued that order.

“The real question has to be asked: How could such a flagrant abuse, such a flagrant disregard for human life go unaccounted for?” Julian Falconer, the family’s lawyer, said after the verdict was read.

“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.”

The verdict of homicide in an inquest setting is not one of legal responsibility, rather it’s a finding that another person contributed to Smith’s death.

The inquest’s five women jurors heard extensive evidence on the teen’s treatment in federal custody and also heard how poorly equipped the prison system was to deal with the mentally ill young woman.

In making a number of recommendations, the jury suggested seriously mentally ill women serve time in federally operated treatment facilities, not prisons.

It suggested decisions for such inmates’ treatment should be made by clinicians rather than by security management and prison staff.

The jury also suggested Smith’s case be used as a case study for training all Correctional Services staff and managers and that all female inmates be assessed by a psychologist within 72 hours of being admitted to facilities.

Additionally, the jury recommended that indefinite solitary confinement should be abolished.

Smith’s sentence originally began with a few weeks for throwing crab apples at a postal worker but ballooned to a cumulative 2,239 days by the time she died on Oct. 19, 2007, mostly for acting out in prison.

Smith spent most of the last three years of her life in segregation, shunted from one institution to another in isolation.

In the last year of her life she was transferred between institutions 17 times —restarting the clock each time to avoid reviewing her segregation status.

Some of the 83 witnesses, who testified over the inquest’s 107 days starting last Jan. 14, said the teen spoke positively about her future and going home to her mom.

Others said she had become inconsolably desolate at the prospects of never leaving prison.


TORONTO — The jury at the Ashley Smith inquest found the self-harming teen’s prison death was a homicide. It made 104 recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies. Among them, the jury recommended:

— That female inmates with serious mental health issues and/or self-injurious behaviour serve their sentences in a federally operated treatment facility, not a security-focused prison-like environment.

— That there is no requirement for frontline staff to seek authorization if they determine immediate intervention is required to save a life.

— That indefinite solitary confinement should be abolished, long-term segregation of more than 15 days should be prohibited for female inmates and the conditions of segregation should be the least restrictive as possible.

— That all female inmates be assessed by a psychologist within 72 hours of admission to any penitentiary or treatment facility to determine whether any mental health issues or self-injurious behaviours exists.

— That there be adequate staffing of qualified mental health care providers with expertise and experience in place at every women’s institution.

— That all staff providing mental health care report and be accountable to health-care professionals, not security.

— That female inmates be accommodated in the region closest to their families and social supports.

— That Correctional Services Canada move toward a restraint-free environment and any inmate placed in restraints be given one-on-one therapeutic support for the entire time in restraints.

— That inmates who have experienced mental health issues within the corrections system be involved in training, planning, research and policy development for mental health care for female inmates.

— That Smith’s experience within the correction system be taught as a case study to all Correctional Service management and staff at all levels.

Organizations: Grand Valley Institution, Correctional Services

Geographic location: Moncton, Summerside, Kitchener TORONTO

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Recent comments

  • Irene Hynes
    December 20, 2013 - 08:55

    I cannot understand how someone who is mentally ill got stuck in a prison cell?!! if people in charge knew sher had mental issues, they should have seen to it that she received the appropriate care. Someone who feigns suicide toget attention...needs assistance from medical specialists.NOT guards in a jail. and should NOT be ignored while attempting a suicide. This should have been recognized much earlier as her cry for help!! These events are aplling. The story unfolds like something out of the early 1900's!! not the 21st century!. the people responsible for her care should be charged as being responsible for her death!