The B.C. government says it is closing down its youth custody centre in Prince George next spring, after seeing a steady decline in the number of incarcerated young offenders in recent years.
Mitzi Dean, minister of children and family development, told Black Press Media B.C. has seen a 53 per cent decline in youth in custody over the past five years.
In 2023, there were an average of 21 young offenders (aged 12-17) in custody at any given time and just a handful of those were housed in the Prince George corrections facility. By the end of March 2024, those youth will join all other B.C. young offenders at the province’s only other custody centre, in Burnaby.
“The facility already has staff and resources and plans and policies in place to support young people from around the whole of the province,” Dean said.
She said the Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre has capacity for 84 youth, and is generally only 25 to 30 per cent full, as it stands now. Dean credited much of the drop in the number of incarcerated youth to changes made to the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2019, which encouraged alternatives to laying charges.
The Prince George Youth Custody Centre has an annual operating cost of $5 million. Dean said some of those funds will now go to temporarily accommodating youth in Prince George before they can be transferred Burnaby and some will go to covering travel costs for those youth to stay connected with loved ones when they move away from their home communities.
Dean said because some of the $5 million comes from federal funding and was specific to the Prince George centre, she doesn’t yet know whether they will still receive the same amounts.
“We’ll have to see exactly what the final number is and then reinvest whatever we can into those community-based support.”
The future of the Prince George Youth Custody Centre building is also still up in the air. Dean said the Ministry of Citizens’ Services will be engaging with the community on what it could be transformed into.