The B.C. government should fully open the Victoria youth jail now that it’s hiring up to five temporary on-call staff at the partially shuttered facility, says the union representing corrections officers.
Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, said the government’s plans to recruit and train auxiliary staff for the jail proves that it should never have closed in the first place.
“There was a broad coalition of voices that said that the Victoria youth custody centre was necessary and needed,” she said.
“The rehiring of people shows that that actually is true. Now, we’re calling on the government to [take another look] at this and to reopen the centre.”
The union said about 30 correctional officers, each with years of experience working with young offenders, were moved from the jail to other positions following the announced closing.
“I met with those members as this process was happening and they were all extremely dedicated to the work that they were doing with youth in custody, and none of them would have voluntarily chosen to leave if they had known that it was going to remain open,” Smith said.
“They were dedicated to that work and they’re telling us that they feel quite betrayed.”
Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux announced in April 2014 that the government was closing the jail because it could no longer afford to house an average of 15 youth a night in a facility built for 60, but staffed for a maximum of 24.
Cadieux said the closing would save about $4.5 million a year and offset a corresponding loss of federal money.
The move faced opposition from B.C.’s representative for children and youth, the NDP, local politicians, families and legal advocates.
Police agencies also objected and refused to house youth for short stays in their cells.
As a result, the ministry was forced to keep the View Royal jail open as a “temporary holding unit” where youth could stay before being transferred to court or the Burnaby Youth Correctional Centre.
The ministry recently said the unit has been used about 14 per cent of the time since April 1, 2015, and reiterated its position that “there is not an adequate need or demand to reopen” the jail.
“The ministry will continue to operate a small unit at the site of the former Victoria Youth Custody Centre until the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services find a viable option for the site or alternative temporary holding is secured,” the ministry said.
Smith, however, said the ministry could reopen the jail to house Vancouver Island youth and use any additional space to provide needed mental-health beds for young people.
“I think there’s an opportunity to turn this around,” she said. “I think there’s an opportunity to reopen the centre.”
An online job posting says the ministry is seeking up to five “auxiliary on-call” youth supervisors to work primarily evenings and overnight, including weekends, as well as a variety of shifts as needed throughout the week.
The deadline for applications is today.