Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ashley Smith case: Time to end ‘the ugly spirit of our penal system’

Ashley Smith was arrested when she was 14 for throwing crab apples at a mail carrier. In the five years Ms. Smith spent in the penal system as a result of the one incident (which dominoed into a series of ‘institutional charges’) she was bounced from institution to institution, suffered a range of abuses and potentially illegal treatments, including forcible injection with medication against her will, long periods of solitary confinement, being duct-taped, hooded, tasered and pepper-sprayed. Howard Sapers, the national correctional Investigator, concluded in his own inquiry into Ms. Smith’s case that she was routinely denied adequate mental-health care.

Ms. Smith died on Oct. 19, 2007, after choking to death in her prison cell. Amplifying this tragedy, several guards stationed outside the door of her cell were under orders not to intervene.

Attempts to investigate Ms. Smith’s death speak volumes about the ugly spirit of our penal system. Instead of an honest admission that there are deep and longstanding problems with the structures of punishment and an accompanying resolve to actually address these problems, the wagons were quickly circled.

The first inquiry was halted after allegations that its terms and processes were anything but fair and transparent. A second inquest that begun in 2012 resumed this week. This inquiry is also mired in controversy. Lawyers for the Correctional Service of Canada made repeated motions to have various pieces of evidence speaking to Ms. Smith’s mistreatment blocked. Included in their bid was the footage of Ms. Smith being duct-taped and hooded on a plane as well as the video showing her held down on a gurney by several guards as a nurse injects her with an unknown substance. In this video, Ms. Smith’s protestations are clearly audible.

Read on...

The author of this Globe piece, Dawn Moore, is a graduate of the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies.  Tom

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