Ashley Smith was the focus of several reports into Canada's prison system. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Smith's family)

A Saskatchewan prison official accused of assaulting a mentally ill inmate from New Brunswick says he didn't hit the woman, but did enter her cell because he felt she needed to be restrained.

John Tarala, 61, was a supervisor at the Prairie Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon. He is accused of repeatedly hitting Ashley Smith during an incident in March 2007.

Smith had a long history of problems in youth and adult corrections facilities and had tried to commit suicide in the past.

Shortly after the Saskatoon incident, Smith was moved to another federal institution in Ontario. In October 2007, she committed suicide.

Her death, at age 19, led to several examinations into how Canada's corrections system handles young people with mental illness.

Tarala was charged over the Saskatoon incident in the fall of 2007. At his trial Wednesday, he admitted he did not follow proper procedures during the incident with Smith.

Tarala testified he knows supervisors are not supposed to go into cells. But he said that on the night in question he feared for Smith's life and went into her cell because he felt she needed to be restrained.

He said he didn't hit the young woman, but did apply a submission hold when she tried to hit him in the groin. Tarala also denied telling two other staff to alter their reports of what happened.

According to reports about Smith's experiences with the criminal justice system, she spent most of her teen years being bounced around different youth detention centres in New Brunswick.

When she entered the adult system she was moved among nine federal facilities in less than 12 months.