Ashley Smith needed hospital care, says prison official

A retired regional manager for Correctional Service Canada says people like Ashley Smith don't belong in prison. Bob Maclean testified Tuesday at the Ontario coroner's inquest into the 2007 death of the 19-year-old at the Grand Valley Institute in Kitchener, Ont.

Budget cuts pushed mentally-ill inmates into prisons, coroner's inquest hears

A retired regional manager for Correctional Service Canada says people, such as Ashley Smith, do not belong in prison.

Bob Maclean testified on Tuesday at the Ontario coroner's inquest into the 2007 death of the 19-year-old at the Grand Valley Institute in Kitchener, Ont.

The Moncton teenager died in her cell after tying a ligature around her neck. Guards did not enter her cell to intervene, acting on an order not to enter Smith's cell unless she had stopped breathing.

Ashley Smith is shown in this still image taken from a coroner's video. Smith died in a Kitchener prison on Oct. 19, 2007. (The Canadian Press)

Maclean is now retired after working in the Corrections system for 35 years. He was in charge of security for 12 prisons in Ontario, including the Kitchener prison for women where Smith died on Oct. 19, 2007.

Maclean told the inquest he can now speak freely because he can no longer be fired. And he said everyone was better served when people with mental illnesses were kept in secure hospital environments, instead of in prison.

"I hate to say back in the old days, I know there were forensic units in our medical facilities to deal with difficult inmates," he said.

The inquest, which is being led by Dr. John Carlisle, is now into its seventh month following a 10-week summer recess.

More than 50 witnesses to date have painted a picture of a mentally ill girl who at times wanted to kill herself, at other times dreamed of getting married. The inquest has also been told about girl who could be sweet and funny at some times, and aggressive and manipulative at other times.

Manager never raised concerns

Maclean testified he never opened or read any emails from staff that mentioned Smith had a ligature around her neck for more than 30 minutes or that her nose was one seen bleeding because of a ligature.

Maclean agreed he never raised an alarm about such situations, but said relying on force and punishment to try to change Smith's behaviour was doomed.

"Application of force, I don't believe in my opinion, has ever been the most suitable tool or procedure to manage self-harming inmates," said Maclean.

Maclean said there used to be more money available to work with mentally-ill inmates, but budget cuts and a focus on imprisoning them left them ill-served.

In the last year of her life before dying in isolation in her cell at the Kitchener prison, Smith was shuffled 17 times between nine institutions in five provinces.