Canada’s juvenile crime rate is so low that one young offenders’ correctional centre in Nova Scotia has only a few occupants.
The Waterville youth centre in Nova Scotia, along with the rest of the corrections facilities for young offenders in Atlantic Canada, has seen a dramatic decline in the number of inmates.
The hallways of the Prince Edward Island Youth Centre were quiet last week. Nearly all the 16 beds sat untouched. Just one person was confined to the brick walls of the correctional centre, which sits on a pristine lawn just down the road from the hockey rink in Summerside. The building, with its pale green roof and looming concrete fences, costs $2.86 million a year to run.
For the entire 2018-19 fiscal year, only 17 people in the province were admitted to the youth jail, compared to 70 five years ago. This pattern is repeated across Canada.
During the first week of July, according to a survey by CBC News, there were fewer than 30 inmates in the region’s four long-term youth jails — secure facilities built to hold 10 times that number. As youth correctional centres across Canada continue to see a dramatic decline in numbers, the provinces are left with expensive and largely empty buildings.
A few decades ago, these facilities were full, even overcrowded. The decline in numbers began slowly in 2003, when the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into force. The Act instructed the courts to consider every reasonable alternative to a custodial sentence before putting a young person in jail.