Ministry sets up team to supervise youths in Victoria area

The Ministry of Children and Family Development is creating a five-member community support and transport team to provide intensive supervision to youths in Greater Victoria.

The team, which will be made up of five Victoria Youth Custody Services employees, will operate for a year under the umbrella of the Burnaby Youth Custody Centre.

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One of its roles will be to transport youth after hours, on weekends and on statutory holidays when sheriffs are not available.

“The team will be critical to ensuring youth spend minimal time in police cells, as well as helping to maintain family connections for those Island youth sentenced to custody in Burnaby,” the ministry said in a statement.

In April, Stephanie Cadieux, the minister of children and family development, announced that the government was closing the Victoria Youth Custody Centre due to the declining number of youth in custody. The jail was built for 60, but has been budgeted to hold a maximum of 24 since the girls’ unit closed in 2012.

On Wednesday, the Times Colonist reported that a 15-year-old girl spent four nights and five days in a police lockup in Kamloops before being flown to the youth centre in Burnaby.

Cadieux will be discussing the matter with the justice minister and senior ministry staff, a spokesman said Friday.

Defence lawyer Richard Schwartz, who represented the teenager confined in police cells, said the transport team won’t address the situation his client faced.

“But it may improve the likelihood that kids travelling to and from Vancouver and Victoria may get to where they are going in a timely way.”

The community support team will also supervise short leaves and make sure supervision and programs are in place in the community when a youth is released from custody.

A transport team of youth custody staff, who know these youths, will be beneficial, said Dean Purdy, vice-president and chairman of Corrections and Sheriff Services for the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

“It should be good. But we still think this is the wrong decision to close the [Victoria] facility.”

Employees interested in applying for the community support positions are concerned about what will happen at the end of the year, Purdy said.

“We’re trying to find out those answers and hopefully government will have an answer for us on that.”

The province began transferring youth in the Victoria jail to Burnaby and Prince George last week. No date has been set for the full closing of the centre.

The ministry statement said any youth on long-term remand or serving a long-term sentence of more than seven days has been, or will be, transferred to Burnaby.

Youth in custody in Victoria and due for release before the middle of August will remain in Victoria to complete their sentence.

Youth on short-term remand and sentenced to fewer than seven days will continue to be housed at the Victoria Youth Custody Centre until it is shut down.

It’s unclear where youth will be held for short stays on southern Vancouver Island once the jail closes. Police have said they will refuse to house them in their cells, and the ministry has yet to say how it will deal with that.

A memo to staff from Lenora Angel, executive director of the youth justice and forensic service branch, said the closing will affect 44 employees at the Victoria Youth Custody Centre. This includes one manager, three senior youth supervisors, one chaplain, 29 youth supervisors. Two nursing positions, six auxiliary youth supervisor positions and two auxiliary nurse positions will also be affected. Four youth supervisors at the Burnaby centre are also expected to be affected.

According to Purdy, a provision in the collective agreement will place employees into alternative occupations within the government.

“We’re hoping the process is smooth and seamless for all 44 employees and that they can land in an occupation that suits their preferences, and their skills and abilities,” Purdy said.

“There’s a lot of anxiety about where they will end up. It’s not a given that they will even end up in their own geographical region.”

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