Youth custody centre closure will be felt on West Shore: union rep

An estimated half of workers at View Royal facility live in the area

The impending closure of the Vancouver Island youth custody facility in View Royal will have a definite effect on West Shore families, says a union rep who lives in the area.

Dean Purdy, chair of the corrections and sheriffs services component of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, estimates as many as half of the 54 regular employees and 11 auxiliaries working at the youth facility live on the West Shore.

While it remains to be seen what the jobs fallout will be from the closure, the date for which has not been established, it will have an effect, he said.

“Those are good paying public service jobs that will not be there,” Purdy said, noting that local families who rely on the income from those jobs shop in the area and otherwise contribute to the West Shore community.

In announcing the decision on Monday, B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said the 60-bed facility is under-utilized, averaging 15 secure custody inmates. The timing of the closure will be determined in discussions with the BCGEU, she said.

With no youth corrections facility on the Island, sentenced young offenders from the South Island would be transferred to facilities in Burnaby, while those from the North Island may be sent to Prince George.

The three youth custody centres are “incredibly over-resourced,” Cadieux said, adding there is ample room in Burnaby to accommodate South Island youths.

Centralizing facilities will help offset the $4.5-million reduction in federal funding B.C. received due to the lower number of youth inmates, she said, and makes it more practical to deliver inmate programs.

From a rehabilitation perspective, Purdy said, staff and young offenders from the View Royal centre frequently use facilities and programs on the West Shore.

BCGEU president Darryl Walker said the decision to close the facility came as an unpleasant surprise, after government gave assurances earlier this year it would remain open as other options are explored.

“Our members were committed to working with the ministry to explore new uses for the centre that would address the government’s concerns around over-capacity,” he said.

Youth facilities serve as remand centres for those awaiting court, as well as those sentenced for repeat or violent offences that rule out serving a sentence in the community.

“This is a decision we’ve struggled with for some time,” Cadieux said. “Our youth custody numbers have been declining and declining over the last decade, and over the last year, our three youth custody centres have been operating at a combined average capacity of 56 per cent.”

– with files from Tom Fletcher