'Sense of panic' surrounded Ashley Smith

The prison where Ashley Smith died had a sense of panic around the teenager, an inquest heard Tuesday.

Grand Valley psychologist testifies at inquest

The prison where Ashley Smith died had a sense of panic around the teenager, an inquest heard Tuesday.

Dr. Gordana Eljdupovic is a clinical and forensic psychologist who worked at the Grand Valley Institution for Women when Smith was held at the Ontario facility.

She testified Tuesday that staff were so busy following the latest orders when it came to Smith that no one slowed down to look at the bigger picture for her care. 

"I think I did the best I could. Everyone did, I think," she said.

"One of the things I think was really negatively effecting Ashley, to the detriment of everyone, was this feeling of panic, of running around, phone calls, meetings, often a sense of having to report to NHQ. Of course, accountability is huge, but [there was] a panic about it."

Eljdupovic said she often found communication at the prison ineffective. It was also difficult to work with Smith because Eljdupovic never saw her in an interview room.

"I don't think I ever received training to provide therapy through a food slot," she said.

Eljdupovic was also worried that interacting with other inmates would inadvertently trigger negative reactions in Smith. She said Smith's behaviour suggested she did not value her life, but she never told her she wanted to die. Smith sometimes "showed tremendous joy and happiness," too, she added.

"Anyone having to spend so much time in segregation would not do well. It's important to find things the person likes to do," she said.

Eljdupovic told the inquest that staff tried to keep Smith safe and busy.

Michelle Bridgen, a manager at Grand Valley Institution, is set to testify Wednesday.

Guards watched as Smith died

Last week, the inquest heard from a doctor who said she was outraged to learn correctional officers had been under orders to stay out of the Moncton teen's cell.

Dr. Carolyn Rogers testified that waiting until the teen stopped breathing was too big of a risk to take.

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.

The Ontario coroner's inquest into Smith's death started on Jan. 14 in Toronto.