After years of declining numbers in youth correctional facilities, Manitoba will be closing one of its centres. Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen made that announcement Thursday morning, noting the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage will be shutting its doors on July 22nd.
Goertzen says the enactment of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act has resulted in fewer young people being sentenced in custody.
Manitoba Justice reports that today, there is fewer than 90 youth in custody, compared to a decade ago when there were more than 300. Goertzen says the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage is operating at 27 per cent capacity, while the Manitoba Youth Centre in Winnipeg is about 31 per cent full. Following the July 22nd closure, incarcerated youth in southern Manitoba will all be at one facility, the Manitoba Youth Centre.
According to the Province, the current overall capacity in Manitoba is at 29 per cent, a significant decline from 102 per cent in 2012.
"Even with only 88 youth in custody currently, that still puts Manitoba right at the top when it comes to the number of youth in custody on a per capita basis compared to other provinces in Canada," notes Goertzen. "Probably three times the national average."
And, while southern Manitoba seems to have a more than adequate supply of justice services, Goertzen says the same can not be said for northern Manitoba.
"In some parts of Manitoba, we have an over-capacity, we have more resources than we need," says Goertzen. "And in other places, we have almost no resources and certainly an under amount of capacity. And so there needs to be a shift in terms of what happens."
According to Goertzen, the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage employs about 109 justice staff. He notes about half of them live in Portage, a quarter of them in Winnipeg and then the rest live elsewhere. Each staff member will be offered positions within corrections, possibly at the Women's Correctional Centre. As for the site, Goertzen says it is possible the land where Agassiz Youth Centre is located could be considered for the new hospital announced for Portage.
"We were getting to a place where the facility was almost closing itself," suggests Goertzen. "When you have 30 youth in a facility and you have 109 staff, it was just becoming very, very difficult to operate in that way."