The woman who was in charge of the prison where Ashley Smith choked to death in 2007 told a coroner's inquest today that she had requested the Moncton teenager be transferred to another facility just weeks earlier.
But Cindy Berry, who was the acting warden of the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., said her request was denied because her superiors felt she was doing a good job.
Smith, 19, died in October 2007, after she tied a piece of cloth around her neck while guards, who were ordered not to intervene, stood outside her cell door and watched.
Previous witnesses at the coroner's inquest into Smith's death have testified that Berry was among the senior managers who ordered staff not to intervene when the teen would tie ligatures around her neck, as long as she was still breathing.
Last week, the former deputy warden, Joanna Pauline, testified it was the warden who ordered her to tell staff about the new policy not to go into Smith's cell unless it was a medical emergency.
On job one month
Berry was only one month into her new job when Smith arrived at the prison on Aug. 31, 2007, the inquest in Toronto heard.
She said she had been told Smith would tax resources, but she believed she "didn't have a choice" about accepting her.
Smith was only supposed to stay at the Kitchener facility for three weeks, to give staff at the Nova Institution for Women a break because the teenager was wearing them out, said Berry.
She said she realized she had a problem on her hands during Smith's first weekend at the Grand Valley Institution. Smith began hiding under her security blanket and tying ligatures right away, she said.
Staff ran up 240 hours of overtime dealing with Smith during one long weekend and Berry filed almost daily reports on the teenager to regional and national headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada, the inquest heard.
Berry said the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada was taking a personal interest in Smith's case, which she found unusual because the commissioner had not taken a similar interest in a five-day riot at a maximum security prison where she had previously worked.
She testified she originally believed it was a peculiarity of the women's section, but now realizes it was because of all of Smith's transfers between institutions.
Berry said she had originally turned down the position as acting warden of Grand Valley Institution. She wanted to work in the male prison system because the rules were clearer and the men were easier to deal with, she said.
But she was told the national headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada wanted her help in turning the institution around, so she agreed to a four-month stint, which started in August 2007, she said.
Berry said she never received any negative comments about her work from superiors.
In October, just 2½ weeks before Smith died, Berry sent her superiors a memo saying she needed more help dealing with Smith and that she would like the teenager to be sent back to the Nova Institution in Truro, N.S.
She was told to forget it, she said.
Smith, who was incarcerated for the first time at age 15, was transferred 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces during the last year of her life, the inquest has heard.
The inquest, which started on Jan. 14 and resumed on Sept. 9 after a 10-week break, is slated to continue on Tuesday with a second day of testimony from Berry.