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Mother of teen who died in prison demands names, answers – Metro US

Mother of teen who died in prison demands names, answers

OTTAWA – The mother of a young woman who choked to death while prison guards refused to intervene wants them held to account – along with the bosses and “faceless bureaucrats” whose orders they followed.

Coralee Smith demanded through tears that the federal government allow the correctional investigator to finish what he started and name those responsible for her daughter Ashley’s death.

The 19-year-old from Moncton, N.B. strangled herself with a strip of cloth Oct. 19, 2007, in an isolation cell in Kitchener, Ont., as guards looked on.

“Ashley died because no one in Canada really cared,” her devastated mother told a news conference Wednesday.

“No one cared – not the guards who watched her asphyxiate; not the managers who ordered the guards not to intervene in her case; not those nameless bureaucrats who knew that my daughter needed help but did nothing but transfer her 17 times in 11 months.”

Smith promised she will not stop looking for the answers that might stop another senseless death behind bars.

She and her lawyer are asking Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to give the correctional investigator a mandate to name the supervisors responsible.

“We need to know the names of these officials who are responsible for what happened to my girl.”

Correctional investigator Howard Sapers reported Tuesday that Ashley Smith’s “entirely preventable” death continued a “disturbing and well-documented pattern of deaths in custody.”

“She did not receive the care, treatment and protection from the service that are not only mandated by law but are also required by their own policies.”

He made several recommendations for better co-ordination of mental-health and correctional systems, more funding and improved training – but he did not lay blame.

Sapers said Wednesday that his investigation is complete and final.

“There is a place for finding blame or not, and that place is outside of the scope of an ombudsman’s office,” he said in an interview. “There were criminal charges, there’s the potential of civil litigation and there’s still a coroner’s inquest to come.

“We don’t find guilt or innocence. That’s simply not the work of the office.”

Van Loan did not directly answer questions of blame Wednesday as Ashley Smith’s death was raised in the House of Commons.

Her sad fate is proof of the need for better mental-health care in and outside of prisons, he said. A key issue is why the mentally ill wind up in jail, which “might not be the best place for them in the first place.”

A spokesman for Van Loan, Chris McCluskey, stressed that several prison staff were fired or disciplined.

Charges of criminal negligence causing death against three guards and a prison manager were dropped in December. Prosecutors in Kitchener, Ont. where Ashley died at the Grand Valley Institution for Women, said medical opinions found the four accused could not have reached Smith in time to save her.

Coralee Smith’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, says that’s a “bizarre” conclusion that glosses over serious questions about emergency response.

Sapers cited in his report documentation that guards had been “reprimanded” in the past for going into Smith’s cell too soon after noticing ligatures around her neck. It was apparently thought that swift response would reinforce attention-seeking behaviour.

Smith had repeatedly tied strips of clothing or blankets around her neck as she racked up 150 “security incidents” in just over 11 months in the federal system. She was transferred from youth custody to prison at 18.

Three Grand Valley guards and the supervisor charged after Smith’s death were all fired. Four other guards were suspended without pay for 60 days.

The acting warden, deputy warden and a manager were reassigned to other duties and two managers were later fired.

Falconer says the Smith family is considering a lawsuit.

He said it’s absurd for anyone – especially a government that prides itself on being tough with law breakers – to consider this “horrendous” case closed.

“Taxpayers expect those in charge to protect our youth. And that means they do their job.

“Name names. Provide explanations,” he demanded. “There may be explanations for why they’d give orders that a suicidal teen with a ligature around her neck should be left until she can’t breathe – that it’s appropriate to stand by and watch that happen.

“And once we figure out who they are, they should never again be allowed to take care of any of our children.”

Coralee Smith described her daughter as an unruly but creative and loving teenager when she landed in youth custody for pelting a postman with crabapples and stealing a CD at 15.

Ashley saw a child psychologist before that after she shoved some people on the street. Smith asked her daughter many times why she was “headed down the wrong path.”

Her reply: “I don’t know why, Mom.”

Smith recalled going to see Ashley during the three years she spent in youth detention in New Brunswick – most of it alone in segregation or “therapeutic quiet,” as it’s called in official jargon.

She described the scars on her daughter’s arms between wrist and elbow. Such marks are often seen on long-term female inmates who, out of stress or depression, slash themselves.

“She was not the girl who left home.”

Outbursts and infractions added months and years to her initial sentence.

Coralee Smith last saw her daughter at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., about two months before she died. Ashley never let on how bad things were for her, she said. She preferred to talk about coming home to play with her dog.

Ashley’s warrant expiry date was Dec. 12, 2009 but her mother said it was hoped she would be released much sooner.

Sapers says a videotape leading up to Smith’s death shows that guards confused about response policy waited about 25 minutes to call for medical help after they noticed she was choking.

They did not immediately check Smith’s vital signs or offer first aid after finally cutting the material from her neck, he said.

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