Correctional Service of Canada: Jury finds that death in custody was homicide

20 Dec 2013

On 19th December 2013, the jury at the inquest into the death in custody of 19 year old Ashley Smith returned a verdict of homicide. Ms Smith died by self-inflicted strangulation at the Correctional Service of Canada’s Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario, Canada, on 19th October 2007. Correctional officers who videotaped her death testified that they did not intervene in time to save Ms Smith's life because they were under strict orders from prison management not to enter her cell. Full details of events leading up to Ms Smith’s death, and the subsequent inquests can be found on the website of the National Post

ICPS Trustee Professor Andrew Coyle gave expert witness evidence at the inquest in October, the only international expert invited to do so. Professor Coyle testified that solitary confinement must not be used for persons with mental health issues or a history of self injurious behaviour, and that the use of long-term segregation is contrary to the international standards on human rights. In returning its verdict the jury made 104 recommendations, including that indefinite solitary confinement should be abolished, long-term segregation of more than 15 days should be prohibited for female prisoners and the conditions of segregation should be the least restrictive as possible.

Following the verdict Professor Coyle said, “The jury sat for almost a full year listening to testimony and studying harrowing video recordings describing how young Ashley Smith was treated over a number of years and eventually died while in federal custody. The verdict of homicide sends a very important message to all prison administrations about their responsibility for those who are in their care. The extensive list of recommendations made by the jury should act as a template for future action by the Correctional Service of Canada and deserves to be studied by prison authorities round the world.”