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Kinew James, in a Facebook photo, died at the Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre.

An inmate who died last weekend at the Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre told a judge in 2011 that she had "a lot more strength" than Ashley Smith and was expecting to get herself out of the prison system.

Kinew James, 35, was found unresponsive in her cell early Sunday morning and was later declared dead of an apparent heart attack, according to her mother. Other inmates at the prison have told the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies that Ms. James had called for medical assistance multiple times over the course of an hour or more before help arrived.

Her death has prompted comparisons to Ms. Smith, the 19-year-old Moncton woman who strangled herself to death in 2007 at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., while prison staff watched but did not intervene. An inquest into Ms. Smith's death is ongoing.

Ms. James spent several years at Grand Valley Institution, where she was frequently placed in segregation cells, before she was transferred to the Saskatoon facility.

She had a history of mental health problems and had deliberately harmed herself in the past, according to Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

In a May, 2011, court appearance in Kitchener, Ont., Ms. James rejected a judge's attempt to draw a comparison to Ms. Smith, according to the Waterloo Region Record.

"I'm not Ashley Smith," she said, according to the newspaper.

"I have a lot more strength than she did…I got my Grade 12," she added. "I want out of jail. I know I will get out."

Ms. James entered the corrections system when she was 18, her mother said.

Her sentence at the time was six years, but she accumulated a string of other charges that increased it to more than 15 years. Her charges included manslaughter, assault, uttering threats, arson, mischief and obstruction of justice.

Her mother, Grace Campbell, said she spoke with Ms. James by phone the night before she died, and the two talked about what she would do after her release from prison, which she expected would happen late this summer.

Her daughter frequently talked about her plans for the future, Ms. Campbell said from her home in Winnipeg. "And I told her, that, you know, I can't wait. Like I've been saying this to her every year ... I would tell her, please don't do anything [to extend the prison sentence] again."

She said her daughter was soft-spoken and a good listener. "She was a good cook, she was a good craftsperson, she was good all around."

Bryonie Baxter, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, said she visited Ms. James at the Grand Valley Institution.

She said she believes Ms. James was at the prison for women for about four years before she was transferred to the Saskatoon psychiatric centre.

Ms. Baxter said she doesn't know what will come of the allegations that help was slow to arrive for Ms. James. But she added that they fit into a pattern of health-care related concerns in prisons.

Last fall, Julie Bilotta gave birth prematurely in her segregation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, a provincial prison. Her mother has told reporters that Ms. Bilotta's cries for help were ignored for hours, a claim the province has said it is investigating.

"The idea that health care concerns are not responded to quickly enough, or that women's health care concerns are minimized, I would say is fairly endemic in Canadian prisons – both provincial and federal," Ms. Baxter said.

Canada's correctional investigator and the Correctional Service of Canada are both looking into the circumstances of Ms. Kinew's death.

Asked about medical staffing at the Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre, a spokeswoman for the Correctional Service of Canada said the department provides inmates with essential health care and "reasonable access to non-essential mental health care.

"The Regional Psychiatric Centre is an accredited medical institution and is staffed with medical personnel on a 24/7 basis," Christa McGregor wrote in an e-mail.