Ashley Smith was a troubled 19-year-old when she choked herself to death with a strip of cloth at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ontario. Her death made national headlines and led to a scathing report by Canada’s federal prison ombudsman. Now, through exclusive access to prison video exposing Ashley’s treatment in custody, the fifth estate shares the story of this young woman’s harrowing life and the circumstances surrounding her death.
Ashley Smith was barely into her teens when she was sent to a youth detention centre in her home province of New Brunswick. Her crime: she had tossed crabapples at a mailman. Smith’s one-month sentence would stretch to almost four years, served in 11 institutions in 5 provinces.
To tell Ashley’s story, the fifth estate fought for and gained access to shocking prison video, showing Smith being subdued by physical force, pepper sprayed, and cocooned in a completely restrictive body bag called “the wrap”. The longer Smith was confined to her various segregation cells, the worse her behaviour became and the more extreme, and frequent, the punishments. What she really needed was mental health assessment and treatment. She never got it.
How did a girl from a loving family die the way she did? With the prison videotapes and exclusive access to Smith’s parents, along with a fellow inmate, the fifth estate and reporter Hana Gartner expose a system that fails the many Ashley Smiths still incarcerated in Canadian institutions.