Ashley Smith spent the past two years in isolation
surrounded by concrete, bulletproof glass, and bars
after a series of run-ins with guards and prison administrators.


Ms. Smith had no shoes, and her only clothing was a security gown,
a prison garment that looked like a horse blanket.
Her mattress had been taken away,
forcing her to sleep on a concrete slab.
There was no blanket.

Canadian teen's death sparks prison furor
Guards, supervisor face criminal charges
by Peter Cheney, Globe & Mail, Nov 21, 2007

By the time she was in her early teens, it was clear that the relationship between Ashley Smith and authority would be a rocky one. Growing up in Moncton, New Brunswick, she was busted for throwing crab apples at a postal worker. Her odyssey through the Canadian prison system began in 2003, when she was just 15 years old - a judge handed down a six-year sentence for a grab-bag of accumulated criminal offences that included uttering threats, assault with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer, and possession of a prohibited weapon. Her parents tried to make the best of it, hoping that some jail time might finally straighten out their unruly daughter: "We were encouraged to let the professionals take over," they said in a statement.

But the six years turned into a death sentence. On the morning of Oct. 19, Ms. Smith was found dead in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution, a federal women's prison located in Kitchener, Ontario. She was 19. An autopsy determined that she had died of asphyxiation.

Ms. Smith's death has sparked an institutional firestorm. Three guards and a supervisor are facing criminal charges. Five other prison staff, including a supervisor, have been suspended without pay. Three official investigations are already under way, and there is pressure for a fourth. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has promised that "appropriate action will be taken" after the investigations are complete.

Ms. Smith's parents, meanwhile, have adopted a flinty-eyed perspective on the justice system that they hoped would rehabilitate their daughter: "They took us away from her at 15," they said this week. "They returned her to us at 19 in a body bag."

At the time of her death, Ms. Smith was on suicide watch, which called for her to be under constant surveillance, both by prison guards and by a set of video cameras. Her psychological breakdown was not a surprise: For nearly two years, Ms. Smith had been confined to segregation cells, where she lived alone, in conditions that appalled the few outsiders who knew about them. "Her human rights and her Charter rights were violated," said Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. "She was being treated in ways that were inhumane."

Ms. Smith spent time in several institutions. One of them was in Saskatchewan; a male guard there was later charged with assaulting her. Ms. Pate visited Ms. Smith several times, and complained to prison officials, apparently to no avail. The last visit was on Sept. 24, when Ms. Pate saw Ms. Smith in a bare concrete cell at Grand Valley. Ms. Smith had no shoes, and her only clothing was a security gown, a prison garment that looked like a horse blanket. Ms. Smith's mattress had been taken away, forcing her to sleep on a concrete slab. There was no blanket.

In Ms. Pate's view, Ms. Smith was spiralling downward, trapped in a cycle of self-defeating rage against the institution, which reacted with punishments and deprivations. "She was cold, and she was quite distressed," Ms. Pate said. "She had been that way for several days when I saw her. Anyone being treated in that way, if they did not have mental-health issues, certainly would have developed them."

The prison where Ms. Smith died is one of seven new federal institutions that have opened over the past decade to replace Kingston's infamous Prison For Women, known as P4W, which was harshly criticized by Madame Justice Louise Arbour in a 1996 report. Grand Valley houses 138 inmates. Most live in minimum- or medium-security conditions, in "cottage" units where women interact every day, and have access to cooking and laundry facilities. Ms. Smith, however, had spent the past two years in isolation after a series of run-ins with guards and prison administrators. Despite the millions spent on upgraded prisons, Ms. Smith found herself in an environment not that much different than the one at P4W, surrounded by concrete, bulletproof glass, and bars.

Ms. Pate believes Ms. Smith's death should serve as a wake-up call. "This was one of the more troubling cases we have ever dealt with. It was troubling to us before Ashley died. We need to be looking at the conditions of confinement of other women in the prison system, and of other men in the prison system." Her concerns are shared by Karen Redman, the Liberal MP for Kitchener Centre, who is pressing for a federal inquiry. "Clearly, there are more questions than answers," Ms. Redman said. "There needs to be an objective accounting to Canadians about what happened."

No one blamed for teen death in prison (bureaucrats who gave orders not named) & Teen strangled self to get human contact (7 guards watched; told not to intervene). CBC/CTV, Mar 5, 2009

Teen's death sparks prison furor (guards, supervisor face criminal charges). Globe & Mail, Nov 21, 2007





Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~