Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Didn't Know of Guard's Confusion about Entering Teen's Cell, Warden Says

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Didn't Know of Guard's Confusion about Entering Teen's Cell, Warden Says

Article excerpt

Unaware of guards' confusion, warden says

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TORONTO - The head of the prison in which a troubled teen killed herself denied on Monday knowing of the paralyzing confusion among guards about when to enter her cell to save her.

Testifying at the inquest into Ashley Smith's death, Cindy Berry said guards were to stay outside unless Smith was in "medical distress."

"If she wasn't breathing, she wasn't responding, she was losing consciousness," Berry said.

"The officers would have to assess that."

The inquest has heard how guards, believing Smith to be in grave danger, would rush in and cut ligatures off her neck.

However, they were frequently disciplined for making that call -- at Berry's behest -- even in cases where Smith's face had turned purple and she struggled for breath.

"Use your discretion, experience and training to assess the situation and to act accordingly," Berry said she told guards when asked directly.

"I understand now that it could have been a conflict."

Smith, 19, of Moncton, N.B., choked herself to death on Oct. 19, 2007, as officers videotaped her but did not intervene until it was too late.

The former acting warden at Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., denied knowing they had been warned to stay out of Smith's segregation cell until she stopped breathing.

In retrospect, she said, Smith didn't belong at Grand Valley, which was poorly equipped to deal with her.

"I don't believe the use-of-force model is appropriate for people with behaviours such as Ashley," Berry said.

The teen had been moved to the facility at the end of August 2007 from her "home" prison in Truro, N.S. It was meant to be a three-week stay to give exhausted staff there a break.

Smith began acting out immediately on arrival.

Under close scrutiny from regional and national headquarters, Grand Valley developed a "management plan" that involved acting coldly toward her if she misbehaved. …

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