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

Ashley Smith is shown in this still image taken from a coroner's video.

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

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.

CLICK HERE FOR AN INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC OF EVENTS IN ASHLEY SMITH'S LIFE

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.

Organizations: Grand Valley Institution, Correctional Services

Geographic location: TORONTO, Moncton, Kitchener

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Recent comments

  • don
    December 20, 2013 - 16:40

    Next? harper did not stop the guards from going into her cell. verdict of homicide well now lets see how this is put under the mat. to me the person who ordered the guards not to enter her cell should be charged with "MURDER" but we all know that will not happen due to the fact this young lady to them was just a no body. but she was a daughter and one of Gods children and he shall pass judgement to the person or persons that is to blame and who knows when the punishment will start.

  • Next?
    December 20, 2013 - 13:10

    Let's not forget that Harper's "get tough on crime" legislation is gearing up to triple the amount of people - poor people, not rich people or senators - in our jail system. Sort of makes one want to throw up, or give up.

  • WHAT HAPPENS THEN
    December 20, 2013 - 09:57

    What happen when a correction officer is killed by some who cannot be controlled like Ashley. Is that homicide also or is the opinion that the officer was paid to put their life on the line and the prisoner is not responsible because that have had problems since early childhood but was not bothered with until that child was imprisoned. . The prison system is not a home for the mentally disturbed who are also dangerous as Ashley was. The prison officials were only protecting the health and welfare of their officers and Ashley had demonstrated in the past the she was beyond reason. If you are going to place blame then blame the judge who put here in jail for throwing crab apples without doing a mental capability assessment. Put the blame where it belongs.

    • What!?
      December 20, 2013 - 21:52

      No mistake made by a judge justifies what our penal system did to that mentally disturbed child. I have been following this story since it happened and the evidence presented at the inquiry refutes your account of what happened her. She was kept in solitary despite her pleas for human interaction, duct taped, forcibly injected with drugs she not only did not consent to but also didn't need and transferred 17 times. Not once in all that time and many moves did any official take the time to read her file and intervene in her torture. IMHO that's so incompetent it's beyond words. There is no defense for the kind of humans who could issue the orders that killed her or those who followed them.

  • Islander
    December 20, 2013 - 07:34

    I have followed this case since the beginning. The Coroner's jury in this case came to the right conclusion. This was a complete coverup from the start and all those who had any part of this should be held accountable and fired and justice served. Asley Smiths lawyer Julian Falconer is exactly right in his statement about who was responsible for this. The Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Justice should move swiftly on this and have this investigated properly and bring those responsible to Justice. Than and only than will Asleys family see true Justice. This should have never happened, this was full a blown coverup by persons in authority to protect their own positions with no regard for Asley. This has gone on with the intention of wearing down Asleys family and congratulation to Mr Falconer for his persistance and seeing showing us there can be Justice if pursued against all odds. Rest in peace Asley. I hope the family will someday see all of those who caused this and covered this up will get their day in Court.

  • Unforgettable
    December 20, 2013 - 07:29

    It is unfortunate that such a young woman had to suffer and endure so much. I watched this story and was horrified by the treatment she was given. Sadly it took her life to make headline news and an inquiry. So many are suffering with mental health issues and government is finally acknowledging something needs to be done. To Ashley's family: I am sorry for your loss and the pain and suffering you have had to endure for the past decade or more but today I see her as a hero. Changes to the system will not happen overnight but because of her it is a step in getting help for others. Ashley Smith is a name I will never forget. Ashley wins today. She may have lost her life but she has given back the justice system two-fold of what was done to her. God Bless