The province’s decision to close the Prince George Youth Custody Centre by the end of March 2024 does not sit well with the BC First Nations Justice Council, which is expressing “profound concern” and “disappointment” with Thursday’s announcement.
The Westbank-based council said in an email sent Friday to The Citizen that there was no meaningful consultation or substantive engagement between them and the provincial government and that the pending closure raises critical issues concerning the well-being of the Indigenous youth in custody.
The justice council said the Ministry of Children and Family Development was misleading in its fact sheet to explain why it is closing the youth centre when it stated there was “on-going consultation” with the council “to inform and shape justice priorities for Indigenous youth.”
“The unknown fate of these young people further exacerbates our concerns,” said vice-chair Boyd Peters, the council's lead on policing and corrections. “What arrangements will be made for these isolated youths so far from their loved ones? How will this abrupt relocation impact their families? What provisions are in place for the successful reintegration of these youth upon their release from custody? The BC government has failed to provide adequate responses to these pressing issues.”
The council supports programs that provide supervision and monitoring to divert youths aged 12-17 away from the justice system and encourage alternate interventions as punishment for offenders in ways that support connections to families and their communities.
BC First Nations Justice Council director Judith Sayers worries that having just one youth custody centre in Burnaby for all of B.C. will result in young inmates in the northern half of the province losing connections to their homes and the support family members provide.
We have serious concerns about how the unique and diverse needs of Indigenous youth from the North will be addressed if they are incarcerated in an urban centre in the South.” said Sayers. “We look forward to meeting with MCFD on Monday to address these concerns and to ensure BC and the BCFNJC are collaborating and working together on issues regarding Indigenous children and youth as set in our protocol agreement with BC.”