System Capacity

With the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), there is a decreasing reliance on incarceration for youth on the part of the courts, and the Ministry has developed a broad and extensive range of community-based alternatives to open and secure custody and detention. The Ministry reports that there were over 400 community based programs across the system in 2014. According to Ministry statistics provided to the Panel, custody admissions declined by 72% between 2003 and 2014 and detention admissions declined by 33% in the same period (MCYS, nd). Secure custody/detention beds have been reduced from 1,113 province-wide in 2003 to 544 in 2014. Of these 544 available beds, less than 300 youth were in secure custody/detention per day in 2014 (MCYS, nd). Open custody/ detention beds have been reduced from 1,022 in 2003 to 395 in 2014 and to 332 in 2016. Average counts over the month of September 2014 ranged from 95-116, and in September 2015 from 117-136 (MCYS, nd). The proportion of youth receiving a community sentence following a finding of guilt has increased eighteen percent and over 8,000 youth were diverted from formal court proceedings in 2013-2014. In 2013-14, 28,981 youth were served in the community. Ontario’s youth crime rate has decreased by 46% between 2003 and 2014 (MCYS, nd).

At the Panel’s request, Youth Justice Services conducted a snapshot of counts in every open and secure custody and detention facility across the province between November 8-10, 2015. Secure custody counts over those three days ranged from a high of 52 to a low of 2, with directly operated facilities operating at approximately 50% capacity over this period and serving a mix of custody and detention (with the exception of RMYC which serves predominantly detention), and transfer-payment facilities operating at a range of 18%-92% capacity over this period with most facilities serving those with detention (MCYS, nd). There appears to be some regional disparity in utilization rates across secure custody facilities. There is also a disparity with gender dedicated facilities for female youth experiencing more consistent underutilization. During the three-day period snapshot, facilities in the East operated at an average 40% capacity, in Central Ontario at an average of 47% capacity, in the North at an average 49% capacity, and in the West at an average of 57% capacity (MCYS, nd).

Open custody counts at transfer payment facilities over the November 8-10, 2015 window showed a similar pattern of utilization. Utilization at most facilities during this time was 25%-50%, with a low of 8% and a high of 87.5% (MCYS, nd). Regionally, the highest utilization was in Toronto (56%), followed by the Central and Eastern regions (35% and 32% respectively), and the lowest utilization was in the Northern and Western regions (28% and 27% respectively) (MCYS, nd).

All operators of open and secure custody facilities we spoke with acknowledged the low and declining counts and excess capacity across the system. A number of the facilities that we visited had only one or two young persons in custody with a full staff complement. One operator advised us that one of their open custody residences had been empty for a period of five weeks at one point.

Some operators expressed that they fully expected that their facilities would be closing. Others indicated that they would like to have the opportunity to re-purpose their custodial resources to provide residential services to a broader group of at risk youth. According to documents received from the Ministry, two open custody facilities are currently listed as being re-profiled from open custody to reintegration facilities on a pilot program basis (MCYS, nd). Interest was expressed in the two reintegration housing pilots and the potential to convert open custody residences to reintegration housing where there is a demonstrated need. Transitional housing for young people being discharged from open and secure custody was also mentioned as a possible initiative. Other potential groups include youth on probation at risk of homelessness and youth requiring a residence to be candidates for bail consideration (MCYS, nd).

We explored with stakeholders the potential for open custody residences with low counts to be used to house child welfare and other non-youth justice engaged youth, together with youth serving open custody sentences. The prevailing feedback was that this would not be appropriate. Although the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, and other stakeholders, commented that often these young people do cross over between the youth justice, child welfare and children and youth mental health systems, they felt it was inappropriate to send a young person who has not committed a crime to a custodial setting. It could be perceived as punishment and be stigmatizing. The exception to this perspective was expressed by some Aboriginal partners in the North, who indicated that, in the absence of other solutions, they would be receptive to co-locating their youth in order to keep them closer to home.

Several people we spoke with indicated that the excess capacity is “the elephant in the room” and there have not been any systemic opportunities to bring operators together to discuss strategies and solutions. Services are reported to be delivered differently by each region and province-wide meetings to discuss options to re-purpose, rationalize capacity, break down barriers to the use of community resources and other strategies for more effective use of resources to meet the needs of young people, would be welcome.