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Manitoba to close Portage la Prairie youth jail

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The province says it will close the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie due to declining rates of youth incarceration – Mar 24, 2022

The province says it will close the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie due to declining rates of youth incarceration.

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced the move, which will see the facility shuttered July 22, on Thursday.

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“Like every province in Canada, the past decade has seen a very significant decline in youth incarceration, which has resulted in our youth facilities in both Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie operating at well under half capacity for the better part of a decade,” Goertzen said in a release.

“While still a very difficult decision, it is challenging to operate a facility at 25 per cent capacity at the same time there is overwhelming demand for facility support in many places in Manitoba.”

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According to the province, numbers at the boys’ facility have dropped 73 per cent since 2012 — falling to a current overall capacity of 29 per cent and leading to a number of unit closures.

There are currently 90 youth in custody in Manitoba, down from more than 300 a decade ago, the province says.

Goertzen says youth incarceration has been declining in the province and across the country following the enactment of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act.

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Incarcerated youth in southern Manitoba will now all be held at the Manitoba Youth Centre in Winnipeg, which the province says has also been operating at less than 50 per cent capacity for several years.

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The provincial release did not say if any jobs will be affected by the closure, but Goertzen said the government will work with staff and the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union to match affected employees with available work at other correctional facilities.

“Staff at the Agassiz Youth Centre are dedicated and valued members of Manitoba Corrections and the closure of the facility is a reflection of the reality of youth incarceration numbers in Manitoba and Canada, and not a reflection of their work, which has been exemplarily,” said Goertzen.

 

The MGEU said it was not consulted on the closure, but plan on holding the government to their commitment of matching affected employees with work at other facilities.

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Over 100 “well-paying” jobs will be eliminated as a result of the closure, said MGEU.

“This will impact the youth incarcerated there and it will eliminate over a hundred good-paying jobs which support Manitoba families in the community,” union president Kyle Ross said in a statement.

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While no decision has been made about the future of the site, it might be used for a new $283-million hospital in the community, Goertzen said. The hospital was promised by former premier Brian Pallister shortly before he retired last fall.

Goertzen also said new measures will be announced shortly to allow more young people from northern communities to be housed closer to home. Most of the people in youth jails are Indigenous and many are from the north, where there are no youth jails.

Goertzen hinted at an expansion of transitional housing in the north where youth could serve the final portion of their sentences.

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“Because there aren’t transitional facilities in the north, a lot of those youth serve their entire time at (Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie) and don’t get the ability to go back into their communities and transition back into the community, which we know has better results,” Goertzen said.

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“You will hear of announcements on how we’re going to be repurposing those resources into northern communities in a really short period of time.”

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According to the Manitoba Historical Society, the Agassiz Youth Centre’s original four-storey stone and brick building was first opened on 24 hectares of land near Crescent Lake in 1910.

It was renamed the Manitoba Home for Boys in 1931 and then became the Agassiz Youth Centre in 1977.

–With files from Keesha Harewood and The Canadian Press

 

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