Ashley Smith: Corrections Canada rejects key inquest recommendation

The mother of Ashley Smith says she's devastated that the federal government will not abolish indefinite solitary confinement for prisoners, rejecting one of the key recommendations made by an Ontario coroner's jury.

Jury recommended that 'indefinite solitary confinement' be abolished

Ashley Smith was 19 when she choked to death in October 2007 at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. The Correctional Service of Canada has rejected a recommendation from the inquest jury that looked into her death. (Canadian Press)

The mother of Ashley Smith says she's devastated the federal government will not abolish indefinite solitary confinement for prisoners, rejecting one of the key recommendations made by an Ontario coroner's jury looking into her daughter's death.

"I think they're addicted to the use of solitary confinement," said Coralee Smith.

"We can't bring Ashley back, but I am really more concerned about the people who are still suffering.  Segregation is still there. It should be banned altogether."

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSCreleased its response today to the coroner's inquest, nearly a year after jurors ruled Smith's death in her segregated prison cell was a homicide. The Ontario jury examined the circumstances of the self-inflicted choking death and made 104 recommendations.

As CSC notes in its response, the jury recommended that "indefinite solitary confinement" be abolished, that long-term segregation not exceed 15 days and that restrictions be placed on the number of periods that offenders can spend segregated.

But the CSC rejected the term "solitary confinement," saying  that Canadian law allows administrative segregation "for the shortest period of time necessary, in limited circumstances, and only when there are no reasonable, safe alternatives."

Administrative segregation, CSC said, is not "a form of punishment" but used to "maintain the security of the penitentiary or of any persons."

"The legislation and policy surrounding segregation is very rigorous. Decision-makers are held to the highest standards of accountability," CSC said.

"For these reasons, there are various aspects of the jury recommendations ... that the government is unable to fully support without causing undue risk to the safe management of the federal correctional system."

'Playing the Orwellian game'

Julian Roy, one of the lawyers who represented Smith's family at the inquest, told The Canadian Press that CSC's refusal to use the "solitary confinement" label as the jurors deliberately did is emblematic of the approach.

"They're playing the Orwellian game," Roy said.

"That bodes very poorly for them honestly dealing with this crisis in the system — that they can't even call it what it is."

CSC did say it's developing a strategy to "reduce the reliance on segregation."

In a statement, the John Howard Society said it continues to be "increasingly concerned about the growing use of solitary confinement or segregation in light of increasing knowledge about its detrimental effects on mental health."

 "We are particularly concerned that the federal government has not taken the response to the Ashley Smith report as an opportunity to take action on segregation and solitary confinement," the society said.

The CSC also announced Thursday that it had signed a five-year deal with a psychiatric facility in Brockville, Ont., to provide access to two inpatient beds for high-need female inmates. 

In addition, by March, only emergency transfers will take place on Fridays or holidays so that resources are in place for the arrival of a high-needs complex case, the government said.

But Howard Sapers, Canada's prison watchdog, said there are other difficult patients in the system like Smith.

"I'm not convinced that these changes would guarantee a better outcome," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press


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