Tension in Burnaby youth custody centre could rise with closure of Victoria facility
The decision by the B.C. government to close a youth custody facility in Victoria will only increase the tension and the possibility of violence at the Burnaby Youth Custody Services Centre, said the union chair for correction and sherif services workers.
Dean Purdy, of the B.C. Government Employees' Union, said the Burnaby centre will lose seven full-time correctional officers as part of the cuts that were announced on Monday by Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux.
That, coupled with the addition of new residents who will be transferred from Vancouver Island when that facility closes is "a double whammy," said Purdy, whose members provide security, core programming and work with the youth to get them back on track.
Cadieux said the province's three youth custody centres, in Victoria, Burnaby and Prince George, are "incredibly over-resourced" and there's ample room in Burnaby to accommodate youth from Vancouver Island. Youth from outside the southern part of the island could go to Prince George.
The Burnaby facility currently houses about 45-50 kids, said Purdy, a number that stays fairly constant.
But, said Purdy, placing youth from Vancouver Island in Burnaby isn't as simple as loading them onto a ferry. He said they'll lose their rapport with staff they've grown to trust, as well as the support of nearby family.
"It is concerning for us," said Purdy. "It's only going to increase the tension in there, and that increases the violence."
Just last week, said Purdy, he had a meeting with Worksafe B.C. to discuss officers' concerns about violence in the Burnaby facility. He said there was 20 assaults on officers last year.
"The violence doesn't seem to be going away," said Purdy. "The type of resident we see is more dangerous, more volatile."
But he was pleased that Worksafe agreed to dedicate one of its officers to deal with the Burnaby centre exclusively.
"There will be more of a presence there," said Purdy.
His optimism has now been tempered by Monday's announcement.
"Once you close the jails you don't get those back," said Purdy. "We got blindsided on this."
- With files from Tom Fletcher