BRITISH COLUMBIA
04/28/2014 04:17 EDT | Updated 06/28/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. minister says youth custody centre in Victoria closing due to low numbers

VICTORIA - B.C.'s children's minister has announced the closure of a youth custody centre in Victoria, saying declining numbers mean it's not feasible to continue operating the facility.

Stephanie Cadieux said that on any given night last year, an average of 15 youth were detained at the Victoria Youth Custody Services Centre, which has 60 beds.

Cadieux said Monday all three youth detention facilities in B.C. — including in Burnaby and Prince George — have been operating at below capacity.

"Our youth custody numbers have been declining and declining and declining over the last decade and for the last year our three custody centres have been operating at an average capacity of 56 per cent, which means we are incredibly resourced, so we've had to make a difficult decision," she said.

Cadieux said keeping the centre open costs $400,000 a month.

"B.C. has consistently had the lowest, or second lowest rate, of youth custody in Canada for decades."

Cadieux said there have been 65 per cent fewer youth in custody over the last 10 years, from an average of 220 youth in 2003 to 74 last year.

She said there's no decision on when the Victoria centre will be shuttered but that young people housed there will be transferred to Burnaby, which currently accommodates 28 males and 10 females and has 84 beds.

Increasing use of technology means those being held will be able to maintain contact with their families, Cadieux said.

The minister said the closure will save $4.5 million in funding provided to B.C. from the federal government.

She said the operational decision is not related to the government's core service review.

Cadieux said she didn't know how many jobs will be affected as part of the closure but that the province is working with the union involved.

Two years ago, the province closed two female youth custody facilities and centralized operations in Burnaby.