British Columbia

Youth custody centre in Prince George, B.C., closing due to lack of use

The B.C. government has announced it will shut down a youth custody facility in Prince George by next spring. The minister of children and family development says the decision comes in the wake of declining intake numbers in recent years.

Province plans to relocate all young offenders to sole remaining facility in Burnaby as B.C.-wide intake drops

A large brick building is seen in the distance behind a chain link fence. There is snow on the ground.
The Prince George Youth Custody Centre will be closed by March 2024, according to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. (Catherine Hansen/CBC)

The B.C. government has announced it will shut down a youth custody facility in Prince George, B.C., by next spring.

Mitzi Dean, minister of children and family development, told CBC News on Thursday the decision comes in the wake of declining intake numbers in recent years.

As of March 2024, Dean says all young offenders (aged 12-17) will be housed at what will then be the last remaining youth custody centre, in Burnaby, B.C., about a 765-kilometre drive south of Prince George.

According to the ministry, the average number of youth in custody has declined 53 per cent in the past five years.

The Prince George Youth Custody Centre, which first opened in 1989, has capacity for 24 people, while the Burnaby location can house 84. As of October 2023, the average number of youth in custody across the province was 21.

A brick building sits in snow with a white pick up truck parked out front.
The current custody centre building, seen here on Nov. 16, will be turned over to the Ministry of Citizen Services, which the province says will consult with First Nations and community stakeholders to decided its future use. (Catherine Hansen/CBC News)

Dean said the intake decline is, in part, due to changes made to the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2019 that focused on reducing the use of custody sentences for less serious offences.

"So we have been investing in community-based services and supporting youth in staying connected to their community rather than coming into custody," she said.

Operating the Prince George facility costs about $5 million annually. Closing it, says the ministry, will result in savings that can be reallocated to other youth programs such as restorative justice services, mental health and substance use supports, and supporting cultural and family connections for at-risk youth.

"The more that we can invest … then the best outcomes for those youth will not be to come into custody," said Dean.

Dean said she could not disclose how many youth are currently in the centre, due to privacy reasons.

A white wooden sign is seen embedded in a snow drift. In black capital letters it says Prince George Youth Custody Centre.
The Prince George Youth Custody Centre currently employs 50 members of the B.C. Columbia General Employees' Union and the province says it will help the union find them other work. (Catherine Hansen/CBC News)

The facility currently has 50 British Columbia General Employees' Union (BCGEU) staff members. Dean did not say directly that there will be job losses, saying instead the ministry will work with the union to find opportunities elsewhere.

Future of building unknown

In a statement emailed to CBC News, the BCGEU said news of the closure was "surprising" and that its members "were not given sufficient notice of these plans." 

"Our union wants to know why this happened without consultation or conversation, and we want to know what will happen next with the facility," the statement said. 

"We would hope the government will meet with key stakeholders and front-line workers, like our members, who understand the local community and their needs, as they explore possible uses of the facility."

 The government says it will need to find a space after the closure to temporarily hold youth taken into custody in the northern part of the province before they are sent to Burnaby. A small part of the Prince George centre will remain open after March to provide that accommodation while the ministry looks for a longer-term space.

The building itself is being turned over to the Ministry of Citizen Services, which will engage with local First Nations and community stakeholders about how to repurpose it.

The province closed a similar facility in Victoria as a cost-saving measure in 2014. 

Following the closure, the Victoria Youth Custody Centre was transformed into a homeless shelter and now operates as a recovery centre for men with substance use issues.

Similar ideas have been floated in Prince George: In September 2022, a former director of the centre, Stan Hyatt, wrote a letter to the Prince George Citizen calling for the closure of the centre. He said he had spent 10 years as director of the facility and intake numbers were too low to warrant keeping the doors open when that money could be better spent elsewhere.

"We have no substance misuse treatment facilities for women in the north, very limited services for those with mental health issues and a frustrating unhoused population problem in our city," wrote Hyatt.

"Having a virtually empty youth jail in this community when it could be better utilized to address some obvious systemic problems seems ludicrous if not downright embarrassing." 


Bridgette Watson writes and produces for news and current affairs at CBC British Columbia. You can reach her at

With files from Catherine Hansen and Bill Fee