The provincial government is downloading the costs associated with closing the Victoria Youth Custody Centre and detaining youth in police lock-ups onto local municipalities, says Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.
“I know that the provincial government is looking for ways to save money, but they can’t expect the municipalities or the Mounties in West Shore to pick up these costs,” Fortin said Tuesday in an interview.
On Monday, local police chiefs and the RCMP learned that the province plans to close the youth custody centre and transfer youths in custody to Burnaby or Prince George.
Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said Monday that with declining funds and fewer young people ending up behind bars, the government can no longer afford to keep the jail open.
The closing will save the B.C. government $4.5 million a year. The province spends about $400,000 a month to house an average of 15 boys a day in the 60-bed facility.
The closing means that youth in Victoria on pre-court detention, short periods of remand or serving short sentences will be held in police cells.
But Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner said his department will refuse to hold youths in its police lock-ups. And Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie said his department is reluctant to take any prisoner for more than one night.
“It’s our position that once they go to court, it’s a provincial responsibility to house them,” Downie said.
Cpl. Darren Lagan said the RCMP is examining the impact this closure may have on its Island detachments and will continue discussions with regional policing partners and the province.
According to Elsner, police departments receive about $11 per prisoner per hour from the government, but the cost of housing a youth in police cells and the extra staffing required would be hundreds of dollars a day.
“Costs can’t be the only driving factor here,” Elsner said. “As a dad, I just think police holding cells are not the answer.”
The Victoria police lock-up has no facilities for counselling or parent visits, Fortin said. “All the things that are really appropriate for young offenders will not be available for them in police cells.”
Victoria police cells are grim — a concrete bench with a rubber mat and a toilet. There is no access to showers, fresh air or exercise. Prisoners get boxed lunches because there are no cooking facilities.
Fortin said he’s concerned about the “huge liability issues” associated with housing vulnerable youth as young as 12.
“If one child got hurt in our custody, it would be our responsibility,” Elsner said. “If one child got hurt, we would not be having this conversation. Everyone would say: ‘That can’t happen again. We can’t have them there.’ Let’s have the conversation before that happens.”
The issue will be discussed today at the meeting of area chiefs. It will also come before the Victoria police board on May 13, Fortin said.