Dec. 19, 2013

Press Release - December 20, 2013

Montreal (December 20, 2013) – Yesterday the verdict of homicide was announced in the inquest surrounding the death of Ashley Smith, a 19 year old woman with several mental health issues who died in prison in October 2007. Ashley Smith had not received a proper diagnosis until after her death and faced violence within the prison system as someone labelled with behavioral problems. Ms. Smith was an inmate at numerous correctional institutions and was given a one month sentence for a minor misdemeanor which led to a 6 year imprisonment due to incidents which occurred while she was in custody.

“While the verdict for the Ashley Smith case provides a sense of accountability for what she had to experience, the fact remains that the prison system and social safety network continues to fail women like Ashley Smith,” says National Executive Director of the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN-RAFH Canada), Bonnie Brayton. Research confirms the lack of institutional support for young women with mental health issues make it more likely that they will be deemed unstable by the state and end up in prison in place of receiving adequate access to mental health services. This point was further supported by a 2012 report ‘Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading?: Canada’s treatment of federally-sentenced women with mental health issues’. The authors concluded that “Ms. Smith’s death was the result of individual failures that occurred in combination with much larger systemic issues within ill-functioning and under-resourced correctional and mental health systems”. The report was produced by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) in collaboration with Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), Disabled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN-RAFH Canada), and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) among others.

“Ashley Smith’s story reflects the glaring gaps that exist for all women in terms of ensuring they are not criminalized for their mental health issues and have access to the resources they need” says Brayton.

The DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada believes that the problem is two-fold: there is the underlying lack of access to services coupled with the criminalization of disability that led to the series of events in Ashley Smith’s life which ultimate resulted in her death. “The verdict that has been announced provides a sense of relief in making sure someone takes responsibility for this injustice,” Brayton said. “However, more must be done to address the root of this issue to ensure this does not continue to happen.”



Media Contact:
Tanya Magni:
Communications Coordinator, DAWN-RAFH Canada
Tel: 514-396-0009 Ext. 2504