Battling for youth centre

Oak Bay council leads the charge

Closing the Victoria Youth Custody Services facility affects all municipalities.

Those were the sentiments of Oak Bay Coun. Cairine Green who presented Oak Bay council with a resolution asking for support requesting the VYCS facility in View Royal remain open, preventing young offenders from Vancouver Island from being forced off-island to serve their sentences.

“Families can be touched by the criminal justice system, no one is immune.… Families in Oak Bay who have youth, young children before the courts (can) be sadly sentenced,” she said. “Youth would be removed from families and removed from their community and that touches all of us potentially. That’s why I took this on, no one is immune from children getting in trouble.”

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux announced April 28, the under-utilized facility averaging 15 secure custody inmates in a 60-bed facility would be closing. The centre serves as a remand centre for youth awaiting court, as well as for those sentenced for repeat or violent offenses not serving a sentence in their community.

Green, a former probation officer and family court councillor with B.C. Corrections, said Oak Bay is a safe community, but the justice system crosses all incomes and municipal boundaries and taking youth from their families, contacts and support systems creates greater barriers to rehabilitation and puts youth at further risk. Especially so for families with financial issues, she said, creating another additional challenge to support and visitation.

Victoria Family Court and Youth Justice Committee chair, Cynthia Day said the committee, a group mandated to exist by the federal and provincial government, supports the cause.

“It is not just Greater Victoria, this is the only youth detention centre on Vancouver Island, it means youth that are struggling to meet society’s expectation are going to have another roadblock in maintaining their relationships,” she said. “When there is a need for custody, or that type of intervention, those relationships are key to reintegrating after they have served their time.”

If the economics are not working, both Green and Day said adjustments could be made but reiterated the importance of keeping youth as close to home as possible. Green however wondered if it couldn’t stay open as a youth facility, if there were other options.

“I think it’s a huge mistake to close the facility. (It) is barely 12 years old. It seems really wrongheaded to close a perfectly good facility,” she said. “(But) if numbers are an issue, repurpose it to help with adult women and mental health addictions. I would imagine the cost to transport youth offenders and female offenders to the Mainland will have a huge cost attached to it as well.”

Green said the issue of not having a correctional facility for adult women is a huge gap in service and a matter of inequality, and that if the numbers aren’t there, repurposing a portion or all of the facility could be an option to keep it serving the community.

“This has been an ongoing issue for 40 years on Vancouver Island. … There is still no facility for women,” Green continued. “I think that is a related issue. I think it’s bad public policy and has implication for women offenders and their families. Some are mothers and they are in essence removed from their supports.”

Green passed her resolution on to all 13 municipalities in Greater Victoria and several, including Saanich, Oak Bay, Colwood, Highlands and Victoria, have approved motions to send letters to the minister,.

“For an island of this size of this substantial population … it just seems unbelievable any women (or youth) remanded to custody or sentenced cannot serve those sentences on Vancouver Island,” she said “Our greatest hopes of rehabilitation ride with youth.”

With files from Christine van Reeuwyk

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