A rush to judgment: union releases report into death of federal inmate Ashley Smith



    KITCHENER, ON, Oct. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - The Union of Canadian Correctional
Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) today called for a fully independent public inquiry
to examine the incarceration of Ashley Smith. The recommendation was made
during a press conference in Kitchener, Ontario, to release the union's report
on the 12 months in federal custody of the 19-year-old inmate who choked
herself to death October 19, 2007, at Grand Valley Institution.
    "Ashley Smith did not have to die," said UCCO-SACC-CSN National President
Pierre Mallette. "But at every step of the way, correctional officers were
prevented from doing their jobs by senior and local managers at Correctional
Service Canada (CSC), who were more concerned about public relations than what
was happening inside our institutions for women."
    The union report, titled, "A Rush to Judgment," examines the year that
Ashley Smith spent in federal custody. It questions the charges of criminal
negligence causing death that were brought against three correctional officers
who were present at the scene of her death at Grand Valley Institution (the
report is available online at www.uccosacc.csn.qc.ca). Those three officers
were charged a year ago today by Waterloo Regional Police and were fired by
CSC three months later. Four other correctional officers were suspended
without pay for a period of three months.
    The report details Ms. Smith's penchant for violence and self-harm,
especially her frequent habit of choking herself with cloth ligatures up to
the point of unconsciousness. At various institutions that held her during her
time in federal custody, CSC management ordered correctional officers not to
intervene during these incidents - unless Smith stopped breathing. At Grand
Valley Institution, management even instituted a mandatory training session to
ensure that correctional officers would refrain from entering Smith's cell
during her almost-daily incidents of self-choking.
    Because each entrance into Smith's cell to forcibly remove instruments of
self-harm was catalogued as a "Use of Force" in CSC statistics, managers were
worried about their public image in this case, and ordered correctional
officers to manage inmate Smith in ways that would reduce reports of Use of
Force. The result of this management strategy is clear for all to see.
    "Any correctional officer across Canada could also face life in prison
for doing their job the way these officers were trained and ordered to do,"
observed UCCO-SACC-CSN Ontario Regional President Jason Godin. "That's why we
see demonstrations of solidarity in front of every single federal institution
in Canada today: unlike CSC, we will not abandon these fine correctional
officers. They should be commended for doing their job in extremely difficult
circumstances. Instead they are losing their careers and could face a prison
term."
    The union report notes that Ashley Smith spent almost her entire time in
federal custody confined to a segregation cell. Like other high-risk female
offenders in federal custody, she had no access to programs, could not work
for remuneration and her verbal interaction was limited to other highly
disturbed inmates housed in segregation units.
    For three years, UCCO-SACC-CSN has been pushing for the implementation of
a Special Handling Unit for high-risk female offenders - as exists in the
system for male inmates. According to a 2005 union proposal, this unit would
create opportunities for greater participation in programs and activity
schedules, so that high-risk female inmates could eventually rejoin the
maximum-security population in a healthier and more secure fashion.
    "Only after the death of Ashley Smith did CSC agree to examine this
proposal," said Mr. Godin. "While it comes too late to help inmate Smith, it's
not too late for the offenders who are still housed for months at a time in
segregation units. Nor is it too late for CSC to admit its responsibility for
the way inmate Smith was managed and work to restore the careers and
reputation of the correctional officers who have been unjustly blamed for her
death."




For further information:

For further information: Lyle Stewart, CSN communications service, (514)
796-2066


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