It was 6:50 a.m., and Ashley Smith had already tied a ligature around her neck. She was in the corner of her prison cell, not moving, her face purple.

A nurse wasn’t called for 10 minutes. By 7:04 a.m., CPR was administered. Thirty-five minutes later, she was put into an ambulance.

Ashley Smith was pronounced dead at 8:10 a.m.

“I was getting the fall flowers ready for her and a vehicle pulled into the driveway,” says Ashley’s mother, Coralee Cusack-Smith. “I kind of looked and I thought, ‘Strangers, who are they?’”

Coralee was expecting Ashley to come home in 43 days. Instead, that morning 10 years ago, she was given the tragic news.

“No one was ever held accountable,” says Coralee.

‘There was nothing that should have cost her life’

Like all tragedies, it was never supposed to happen. Ashley was adopted as an infant, and grew up as a smiling, happy-go-lucky child in Moncton.

Coralee remembers her daughter’s kindness, recalling Ashley confessing why food was disappearing from their kitchen.

“She said, ‘Well, I’ve been taking food to Joe.’ I said, ‘Who’s Joe?’ ‘Well, he’s that old man that lives under the bridge. He’s a really nice man, Mom. I take him cheese and crackers, sometimes a sandwich,’” says Coralee.

It was in her early teens when Ashley became disruptive. She was suspended from school, was disobedient, and minor offences started to pile up.

Coralee still can’t believe it was Ashley throwing crabapples at a postal worker that led to her first incarceration at just 13 years old.

She first spent time in the New Brunswick Youth Centre in Miramichi, but her increasingly erratic behavior inside the system resulted in even more time behind bars at a variety of prisons.

Coralee says Ashley spent most of her time alone, in what Correctional Service Canada called the ‘Therapeutic Quiet Unit.’ In other words, solitary confinement or segregation.

“You’re not getting better by that treatment. That’s not treatment. That’s torture,” says Coralee.

She says Ashley spent 27 of 36 months segregated in the youth centre. Shortly after she turned 18, she was transferred to an adult facility.

In the last 11-and-a-half months of her life, Coralee says Ashley was transferred over a dozen times, and spent almost all of it in segregation.

Six years later, a coroner’s inquest ruled Ashley’s death a homicide, accompanied by 104 recommendations. Among them was banning "indefinite solitary confinement" and the use of segregation beyond 15 days for female inmates with mental-health issues.

A year after the inquest, CSC rejected that recommendation.

‘I’m not seeing a change’

The Office of the Correctional Investigator says CSC’s response to the recommendations continues to be disappointing and frustrating.

“It is difficult and even impossible to measure progress because the CSC has never responded to each of the 104 recommendations,” says correctional investigator Ivan Zinger. “This approach makes it difficult to know which recommendations are endorsed and supported versus those that have been rejected, ignored or supported only in part.”

Zinger says his office was told at the inquest to continue monitoring CSC’s progress with the recommendations. He says there’s “little practical value” to this because none of the recommendations were ever answered individually.

The incoming executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia agrees, claiming there have been no major changes since Ashley’s death.

“Ten years is a long time. Ten years is enough time to start to implement some really concrete change and it’s time to see that happen,” says Emma Halpern.

But CSC says they have done plenty since Ashley’s death.

Last year, the Canadian prison authority invested nearly $80 million into the treatment of federal inmates with mental-health needs. A spokesperson also says they’re working on a study to identify the needs of female inmates with mental illnesses.

“CSC is continuously looking to enhance prevention and intervention strategies for offender suicidal and self-injurious behavior,” says Avely Serin of Correctional Service Canada.

But as for segregation, CSC maintains it’s needed as a correctional tool.

Introduced in June, the Justin Trudeau government tabled Bill C-56, which would change the rules of segregation from a 21-day limit to 15.

Coralee says she won’t be satisfied until segregation in Canadian prisons is banned altogether.

She has a message for the federal government.

“Get your job done. Actually, we’ve attempted to get a hold of Mr. Trudeau several times,” she says. “My daughter has emailed, emailed, emailed. You hear nothing.”

So, 10 years later, she’s choosing to remember that Ashley would have been 29 this year.

“You can’t live thinking about those videos and all that horrible stuff, you have to think about her little phone calls home. It was always, ‘Hi Mommy,’ and I’d say ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m fine. I’m in a nice place.’”

“It wasn’t true. She was not in a nice place.”