Young female offenders will still be imprisoned in Burnaby for the course of their sentences, reaffirming the closure of the detention facility in Prince George, though if their sentences are less than a week, they will be able to serve their time in custody in the city.
The changes were made in response to youth custody concerns the ministry stated in an e-mail response.
“We believe the decision to centralize female youth custody will be an overall improvement for girls and their families in a number of ways – and that we have put the right checks and balances in place. We have listened to the concerns raised by the Representative for Children and Youth and other groups regarding the centralization of female youth in custody and have put additional measures in place to address them. We delayed moving the girls to Burnaby so we could give due consideration to the concerns raised. We heard their concerns and as a result, we have made three key changes:
-Arrangements have been made so girls in Prince George and Victoria will not be held in police cells overnight, pending transport to Burnaby. Instead, they will be held in the youth custody centres for brief periods when same-day transportation is not possible.
-Female youth in Prince George who are remanded to custody for a week or less will continue to be held at the local youth centre.
-Girls from outlying areas will be flown to Burnaby from the nearest airport instead of regional hubs to further reduce the length of time spent in transportation.
Concerns about youth being further from families and visitation issues, the ministry said, were also addressed.
“The reality is that about half of the girls formerly admitted to Prince George and Victoria were already transported from other communities and were long distances from their families. We also know that, sadly, only about one-quarter of the girls that were in custody in Victoria and Prince George had relatives who visited the centres in person. The changes we have made will actually decrease the amount of travel time in confinement for girls committed to custody from outlying communities.
“The ministry has established a video-visiting system using laptop computers and desktops with webcams between Burnaby and communities throughout the province for girls’ families to visit. Additionally, the ministry will provide financial assistance for a parent from outlying communities to travel to Burnaby to visit girls who have stays of longer than 30 days and, on a case-by-case basis, for those girls with a shorter stay where exceptional and extenuating circumstances are indicated in the youth’s service plan.
“We feel these changes will be an improvement for girls and their families by enabling the development of and access to a broader array of gender-specific programs that, for example, will better address addictions and mental health needs (especially trauma) of girls.”
The McCreary Centre Society will conduct an independent evaluation with extensive interviews with girls released from custody to ensure the changes mark an overall improvement in services.
The Representative for Children and Youth will also act as a monitor.
A press release says the decision to centralize girls’ services came after a review of program requirements combined with B.C.’s low and decreasing youth incarceration rate.
“The average number of youth in custody (based on year-to-date data) is 101, including only 16 girls. That represents nearly a 75% decline from the 400 youth in custody in 1995/96 and more than a 50% reduction from the 220 youth in custody in 2002/03. In the 11 months between April 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012, there were 46 days when there were no girls in custody in Prince George and a further 43 days when there was only one girl in custody. There is currently only one girl in custody in Prince George.
“The Province anticipates net savings of $2.5 million annually, with $900,000 of that money going towards enhanced youth justice programs; the remainder of the savings will go towards services for children and youth with special needs.
“Centralizing services will enable enhanced rehabilitative programs, expedited escort of girls to Burnaby and improve support for family visiting as well as allow enhanced community based alternatives to custody for girls in Prince George.”