LONDON, ONT -- The King St. Detention Centre in London, Ont. is among 26 youth justice facilities no longer being funded by the province as the result of 'significant underutilization'.

"In 2019-2020 King Street Detention Centre had a utilization rate of only 37 per cent," says Palmer Lockridge, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

The closures of these facilities stem from the recommendations of an auditor general's report in 2012, and a follow-up in 2014. The report requested the government 'build a sustainable system that will fully support youth in conflict with the law'. 

"A focus on prevention and education programs has contributed to an 81 per cent reduction of youth admitted to custody and detention in Ontario since 2004-05. This means there are 8,500 fewer admissions per year now than in 2004-05. As a result, our government inherited a number of facilities that were significantly underused including King Street Detention Centre in London".

The government executed a 'massive system change' Monday according to Kathryn Eggert, Chief Executive Officer of Humana Community Services. She feels it will bring uncertainty both in service and for youth until the system stabilizes. 

"I imagine for youth this will create some anxiety and fear about what it means for them. Youth will need to form new relationships with new staff and also with the youth they now live with. There will be new routines and expectations. And many, will be living far from their families of choice, so youth will likely feel the isolation of that dis-connection to their supports". 

The youth in London have now been moved to another one of the 27 remaining licensed facilities in Ontario. For example a family in Windsor, may now have a child in Hamilton, a facility 300 km away. 

"Now, even more often, they will be living a distance from their home communities, so integration back to their communities will require careful planning and resourcing to maximize ongoing success for youth as they transition out of detention and/or custody," says Eggert. 

Detention CentreEric Johnston is the business representative for IAM which is the union for the direct care workers at King St. Detention Centre. He also used to work for at former Genest Detention Centre for Youth in London.

"These are youth that live in our community that will return to our community, and they are being uprooted," says Johnson. 

"One of the main predictors of reducing rates of recidivism is ability to re-integrate, and I don't know how government plans on achieving that when kids are in the communities they live in". 

In Question Period Thursday in the Ontario Legislature, NDP MPP Suze Morrison, the Critic for Urban Indigenous Issues raised concerns about the government closing facilities in Northern Ontario and moving children between the ages of 12-17 in the middle of the night from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie. 

"Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler (of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation) said Ontario should be ashamed and I agree," says Morrison. 

"The Provincial Child and Youth advocate also said the way these young people were treated like pieces of furniture with no rights, and no sense they have already been through trauma, and without their families knowing where they were going to do that in that way is unconscionable. It will have a devastating effect on their families".

Eggert says this decision could have a serious impact on the teenagers. 

"Many youth in the justice system experience mental health issues as well – some experts estimate as many as 90 per cent, with many requiring a specialized treatment response," says Eggert. 

"These youth are particularly vulnerable now given the disconnection to their therapeutic relationships and the suddenness of the move".

Johnson says the closure not only impacts the youth, but also the employees. Between 20 and 25 people lost their jobs overnight.

"There has been no direction from government whether there will be additional funding or support," says Johnson. 

"They were working good jobs with benefits, and now those have been just ripped from them. They don’t exist for these people anymore. It was abrupt, they knew it was coming and they could have put supports in place for these people and they didn't do any of that". 

According to the Ministry the underutilization meant it 'didn't make sense to keep these facilities open'. It will also save the government $40M annually.

"As a result of these youth justice facilities being underutilized, five had zero kids, 13 had one child in them," says Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. 

"This is important and shows the success of keeping families together and returning youth's to the right track where they become positive members of society. The bottom line is 8500 fewer kids are in custody now and getting service in the community now, and that's good news".

However Johnson disputes the claim of $40 Million in savings. 

"They aren’t quantifying the impacts of this decision in its totality," says Johnson

"When you factor in youth not receiving adequate care, transporting and moving individuals to impacts to my members without work. They've taken jobs away from people in this community and kids away from people in the community and its inappropriate".