Parents of Girl Left To Die In Jail Cell Settle Lawsuit

Ashley Smith was a very troubled teenager.

She first entered the correctional system at age 13 — for throwing crabapples at a mailman. From that point on, her life was a neverending revolving door in and out of prisons, hospitals, homes and care. And every time she went in, it seemed, the care was worse than before.

Ashley was subjected to forced injections, extended periods in isolation, pre-emptive pepper spray, involuntary body cavity searches, confining suicide-prevention outfits and a complete stripping of dignity. 

Ashley responded to her brutal treatment with increasingly furious rages, throwing feces, attacking guards and extreme self-harm. As her treatment at the hands of her state-sanctioned tormentors worsened, so too did her behavior, making the treatment in turn even worse.

Her repeated requests for help, for programs, for the ability to call her family or anyone she trusted, were ignored.  At age 18, she was transferred from juvenile detention into federal custody, where she was shuttled to 17 separate institutions across Canada in the span of 11 months — all of it in solitary confinement.

Ashley was a difficult child, there is no question. But the way in which she was treated was inexcusable. The final insult was in October 2007. Ashley had taken to tying ligatures around her neck, counting on the guards to intervene and save her, which branded her a “problem inmate” and leading the prison to issue an order to the guards not to intervene as “long as she appears to be breathing,” so as to not give into her manipulations and avoid paperwork. 
On October 19th, she tied a strip of cloth around her neck in full view of 7 prison guards. They watched through her cell bars as she turned purple, waiting to intervene until whatever arbitrary line was crossed before their intervention appeared “necessary.” They waited too long. Ashley died.

After her death, the prison ombudsman filed a report stating that her death was entirely preventable had the girl ever received proper care. Her family filed suit against nearly everyone involved in her care: over 20 organizations, including 20 defendants. These included the Attorney General of Canada, the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, and multiple prison wardens and guards. The Toronto Star reports that the suit “alleged corrections staff engaged in a conspiracy that endangered Smith’s life by unlawfully segregating her for nearly a year and not taking proper action after she was declared a suicide risk.”

Ashley’s parents announced yesterday that they have settled their lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

An inquiry into Ashley’s death and the actions of the correctional system is scheduled to begin shortly. We can only hope that no other child is subjected to the torture that Ashley Smith had to endure.

Related Stories:

Two Eighth Grade Girls Commit Suicide At Slumber Party

Accused Killer Who Botched His Own Suicide Gets Liver Transplant

In Prisons, Women Are Shackled While Giving Birth


Photo credit: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos on Flickr


Shirley H.
Shirley Hill6 years ago

Believe it or not, the jail guards were actually following the exact instructions of their superiors!
It would be an additional poke in the eye of the justice needed for for Ashley Smith if the Canadian Justice system simply blamed the lower level jail staff instead of dealing with the very real problem of appropriate treatment for the mentally ill. The mentally ill should not be thrown into the general population of prisons. Anyone who is so mentally ill or[ frightened and childlike like Ashley Smith] that they can't tolerate the prison admissions process, needs to be placed in hospital for observation and evaluation. Ashley should not have died!

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

"Oh, let's wait and see, oh, yes, she's still breathing, oh, look, she's a bit purple now, but still breathing, oh, look, how she dances, hahaha, maybe we should check her, no, wait she's still moving, oh, crap, she's dead." Is that how the conversation went about among those seven prison guards watching Ashley die? It wouldn't surprise me one bit! I call for their immediate arrest and charge them with murder, give them life in prison without any possibility of parole and let them spend the rest of their life running from other inmates!

Shirley H.
Shirley Hill6 years ago

As the adoptive parent of a child whose birthmother drank alcohol throughout her pregnancy, I'm caught by the fact that many behaviors exhibited by Ashley Smith are symptomatic of pre-birth alcohol exposure. Ashley was adopted at birth, and never diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome although she could be a poster child for the permanent brain damage alcohol causes in babies. The behaviors which ultimately brought about Ashley's incarceration: anger issues, failure to learn "cause and effect", impulsivity, and finally the crabapple throwing at a postman that got her a jail sentence of 3 months, [an immature behavior for her 14 year chronological age, as was her habit of hanging out with much younger children when she was the size of a mature woman.....all very typical of fetal alcohol exposure].
In Canada, it is estimated that between 10% to 25% of those in prison were born with permanent brain damage caused by their pregnant mothers alcohol habit.
People need to understand that our prison system is designed to punish wrongdoers, and warehouses those whose brains were damaged by alcohol before birth because their brain damage makes them unable to learn from "consequences".

Ashley Smith's inability to learn "consequences" in prison stretched her 3 month jail sentence into 6 years because Ashley was never formally admitted into prison , [ Ashley refused to remove her clothes and submit to body cavity searches] Enraged by Ashley's refusal, Canada's prison syste

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

idiocy strikes again. money will not replace a child.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

This is pretty bad when our own system abuses children, and the parents are helpless to help their own.

As long as there are abused children, there will be Youth Voice Initiative.

Pamela Carrasco
Pamela C6 years ago

She would have been helped PSYCHOLOGICALLY; and not being treated like a criminal for her behavioral problems; SHE WAS ONLY A CHILD!!

Maarja L.
Maarja L6 years ago

Sounds awful.

Khat Bliss
Past Member 6 years ago

Human rights, do we even have any anymore?

Joy Jin
Joy Jin6 years ago

I can't believe this. Ashley wouldn't have died if there was proper care for her.

Tana Williams
Tana Williams6 years ago

Despite what many Americans feel, that one has certain rights when incarcerated, once you are taken into custody in a prison setting, it is the prison staff that rules your life. They decide what you can and can't do, who you can or can't write to, ect. On top of that, there is actually very little medical or mental health care in prisons, people who need mental health care and meds rarely get them. And the worst thing, a true horror, is long terms of solitary confinement. One mental health org in this country states that prisoners should be held for no more than 3 or so weeks in solitary confinement and yet many prisoners are kept in solitary for as long as a year, almost no human contact. How can someone subject to this NOT go crazy.
As for the parents, who knows? There is every possibility that they tried to help their child, but were stonewalled at every turn.