Lots of room for young offenders

Life can get a little boring for staff at the Yukon’s Young Offenders Facility. Considered an essential government service, it has to run with a minimum of two staff, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Life can get a little boring for staff at the Yukon’s Young Offenders Facility.

Considered an essential government service, it has to run with a minimum of two staff, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This applies even when the building’s empty.

And it’s empty, or nearly empty, quite a bit.

In fiscal 2010-11, the facility was empty a total of 11 days. So far this fiscal year, the facility has been without young offenders 17 days.

“It’s not like we can close it down,” said Pat Living from the Department of Health and Social Services. “It has to be there, waiting.”

So each year, the department forks out approximately $2.36 million to maintain and operate the facility, which sits beside the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

The staff-to-youth ratio must be one to four in both the secure and open units and there have to be at least nine young persons in the building before additional staff are dispatched to the facility.

But there haven’t been that many, at one time, since April 2003, said Living.

And no young offenders are sent Outside to serve their custody or supervision order, she added.

Last week, there were fewer than five youth in the facility, she said.

(“Less than five” is the most precise detail legally permitted under child protection publication bans.)

“Over the past year, there have been 37 admissions. And the youth could be there for a couple days or they could be there much longer,” said Living.

On average, the length of stay for 23 young offenders in 2010/2011 was just under 43 days.

Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are among many factors officials cite when explaining the low number of young offenders in the facility.

“When the act was changed several years ago, it was allowing diversion,” said Living. “It meant that the courts had more options outside of sending kids to an offenders facility, so that’s when we began to see a bit of a downward trend.”

But the Youth Criminal Justice Act is expected to go before the federal government again, when the House of Commons sits on September 19.

Bill C-4 was tabled on March 16 of last year, in attempts to make harsher sentencing for more serious crimes committed by youth, among other things.

The bill died on the table when last year’s federal election was called.

“The federal Conservatives committed to including several crime and justice bills into a single comprehensive bill with intent to pass this legislation within the new Parliament’s first 100 days of sitting,” said Living. “It is expected that the omnibus legislation will include changes to the YCJA as previously outlined in Bill C-4.”

The young offenders facility also operates as the hub for the Youth High Risk Treatment Program, which provides outpatient services to young people and their families from the communities on a daily basis, added Living.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com