Incorrigible While Incarcerated: Critically Analyzing Mainstream Canadian News Depictions of Ashley Smith

Jessi Ring


Ashley Smith, who is typically presented in the media as mentally ill, was nineteen years old when she died from self-strangulation in an Ontario women’s prison on October 19th, 2007. In this paper, I explore how Ashley Smith’s actions and death were portrayed in four mainstream Canadian newspapers (Globe and Mail, Telegraph-Journal, Toronto Star and National Post). My aims in this paper are to critically analyze depictions of mental illness presented by these news articles and connect these portrayals to labeling theories. Two variables—the timing of the news coverage and newspaper political affiliation—emerged as being influential in how newspapers depicted Ashley Smith as mentally ill, through their use of generic and/or negative terminology and vulnerability stereotypes. I also discuss ‘alternative’ stories of Ashley Smith and examine their potential to challenge typical conceptualizations of mental illness, gender and carceral environments.


Ashley Smith; mental illness; labeling theory; gender; media

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Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology (CGJSC)
Revue canadienne des études supérieures en sociologie et criminologie (RCESSC)

ISSN: 1927-9825