Ashley Smith inquest recommendations will be a priority

The assistant deputy minister of Public Safety Canada says all recommendations from the coroner's inquest into the death of Moncton teenager Ashley Smith will be a priority.

Correctional Service Canada has already made many changes since Moncton teen's death, official says

All recommendations from the coroner's inquest into the prison death of Moncton teenager Ashley Smith will be a priority, says the assistant deputy minister of Public Safety Canada.

Shawn Tupper says his department, which oversees Correctional Service Canada, is co-operating fully with the inquiry.

"We want to understand the body of evidence that's brought forward and we very much look forward to hearing the kinds of recommendations that they may bring forward," he told CBC's Information Morning Moncton on Monday.

"Hopefully some we can move on fast and some may be a little bit more complex, but we'll have to wait and see exactly what the range of recommendations are."

Smith was 19 when she died at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., 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.

Tupper says the department still wants to know the origin of the order that guards not enter her cell unless she had stopped breathing.

"The order as we understand it may have been localized, so it's not clear to us yet exactly how widespread the knowledge of the order was," he said.

"We're waiting to hear from the inquiry just what the findings are and the witnesses that will be coming forward in the coming weeks, who have played a management role at the CSC, will start to give us a clear sense of what that reality was at the time."

Staff have more training now

Tupper says many changes have been made at Canadian prisons since the death of Smith.

He says there is a more rigorous intake process for prisoners to identify mental health issues.

Staff at federal prisons are also better trained to deal with inmates who suffer from mental illness.

"They've made sure that the vast majority of staff on the ground have basic training in terms of looking at and understanding issues the offenders in our system may have," said Tupper.

"They've got a much better process whereby they're having mental health professionals on [site] and be able to do more accurate assessments of the needs of the individuals — and so they've really made a big investment over the last few years.

The inquest, which began on Jan. 14 and resumed on Sept. 9 after a 10-week break, has given a glimpse into the troubled teen’s time in the prison system before her death.

Smith was incarcerated for the first time at age 15. In the last year of her life, she was transferred 17 times among nine institutions in five provinces.

The inquest is scheduled to continue for several weeks as Corrections Canada managers from regional and national headquarters are called to testify.